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Three Former Buckeyes Join Safe Sleep Campaign

Sep 18, 2019

Three former Ohio State University football players have joined the effort to reduce infant mortality in Franklin County.

Mike Foley reports.

CelebrateOne Executive Director Erika Clark Jones says infant deaths in Franklin County are trending lower in 2019 compared to last year, but completely preventable ones continue to occur.

“We lost 29 babies, the equivalent of a kindergarten class and a half, to sleep-related deaths before the infant turned 1 last year,” CelebrateOne Director Erika Clark Jones said. “83 percent of those babies were African American. Tragically, over 75 percent of those deaths happened in a CelebrateOne neighborhood. We recognize that the message is important but the messengers are also important. So what are we doing about it? With the help of our partners at Columbus Public Health and every major central Ohio hospital system, we are working to do safe sleep education in every birth hospital in central Ohio.”

Every family with a newborn sees a safe sleep video and receives a sleep sack for their child. CelebrateOne has trained more than 5,000 sleep ambassadors, who deliver information to new parents and caregivers and teach them best practices. They’ve also given out 4,000 portable cribs to families. The latest effort involves a series of videos featuring former Buckeye and NFL players to help move families from beyond simply knowing the ABC’s of safe sleep to actually practicing the steps. A video in a barbershop features Thomas "Pepper" Johnson and his son Dionte.

Audio from the barbershop video plays…

A member of Ohio State’s 2004 recruiting class, Dionte Johnson played four years as a full back and on special teams. He has four kids now – a five-year-old, three-year-old twin girls, and a four-month old.

“It gets pretty crazy in my house, and as you heard me say in the video, we be tired,” Dionte Johnson said. “The key part about is just understanding support and when to ask for help. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions to parenthood is that you have to do it on your own. When I discovered that black babies are dying at twice the rate of others, I wanted to be part of this education outreach and help change people’s behaviors.”  

There’s also a video targeting grandmothers, because research says they have tremendous influence over the decisions in many households.

Audio from grandma video plays…

55-year-old Pepper Johnson played at Ohio State in the early 1980s under Earle Bruce and won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. Now a grandparent himself, Johnson had the following advice for his peers.

“We as grandparents can’t just buy a gift and send our grandkids home,” Johnson said. “We have to continue to teach. We need to help by emphasizing the ABC’s of safe sleep.”

Part of Ohio State’s 2006 recruiting class and a member of the Arizona Cardinals for four seasons, Chris “Beanie” Wells also takes part in a video.

Audio from Wells’ video plays…

“I have two sons of my own, and a few months ago I lost my brother tragically and he has five daughters, so I’m taking care of those five daughters,” Wells said. "It takes a village. I rely on my team to be able to support those girls and my sons. Getting a team onboard to help ensure that things are going to be done in a safe way for these babies is so critical. I encourage moms and dads to be firm. If members in your circle can’t follow the ABC’s of safe sleep, they can’t be there. I wouldn’t allow it for mine, and I hope the people that watch this video won’t allow it for theirs. It’s critical. We don’t want those numbers to continue to rise. We want those numbers to drop drastically.”

CelebrateOne officials hope the videos resonate with residents and that families follow the ABC’s of sleep  (Alone Back Crib) every nap, every night, every time.