Brevard native who overcame disability to reach the NFL now using his platform to give back

ORLANDO, Fla. — Chasing a football on Sundays is where J.T. Hassell has made his living.

For the Brevard County native, a career in the National Football League isn’t the end of a journey, but a path to something bigger.

“I’m gonna use my platform while I’m in the NFL, because nobody knows how long it’s gonna last for me or anybody else,” Hassell says. “So I just want to maximize my time and help other people and give back.”

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Hassell is a compelling messenger. The 25-year-old was born with only two fingers on one hand, but was able to work his way to the NFL, currently playing for the New York Jets, and using his story to inspire others.

The change he is targeting now: teaching kids to have better hygiene, specifically better dental health.

Hassell recently teamed up with a new organization called “All Black” for an initiative they’re calling “Smile Again.”

“Young kids need to have a better outlook on and understand that it’s very important. It changes your whole attitude,” Hassell says.

“A platform of football is like the bait to draw people in,” All Black co-founder Tara Gibson says. “We want to give them a good message to help change their lives for the long run.”

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Gibson is a former academic advisor at Bethune-Cookman University. She says their goal is to make long-lasting meaningful change in underserved communities.

“Once people know that you care about them...because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care...You build those relationships with people and then you educate them and try to encourage them knowing what the dangers are.”

The first Smile Again event will be held March 13 at the Gibson Youth Center Football Fields in Titusville.

It’ll feature food trucks, music, and J.T. Hassell himself, using his platform to make an impact.

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“I’m so thankful and blessed to be able to play in the NFL, but my everyday happiness and what fuels me is just giving back and helping people.”

For more information about All Black and the Smile Again event, click here.

Joe Kepner

Joe Kepner, WFTV.com

I unloaded the U-Haul in Orlando in 2008, just in time to cover the Magic's run to the 2009 NBA Finals.