As an exceptional player on a Seahawks defense littered with stars, Cliff Avril sometimes gets a little overlooked.
Not by his teammates or peers, who always praise his value and Pro Bowl-worthiness, but sometimes by national media or those focused only on statistical rankings.
But Avril is one of those multidimensional athletes, those with a world view and perspective — those who see the ways that pro sports allow them to help others.
In this way, Avril has become an All-Pro humanitarian.
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In the spring, Avril and a few NFL friends, including retired Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, traveled to impoverished Haiti and began changing lives.
An estimated 80 percent of Haitians live below the poverty line. But it’s not just the low standard of living that is gnawing away at the country, it’s the lack of water, as a reported 4.5 million people don’t have access to clean water.
Since the 2010 earthquake, cholera outbreaks have killed thousands.
“I felt it was time to go back to where my parents were from and do something impactful,” Avril said.
Avril and his friends visited an orphanage, filled with children who lost parents in the earthquake. “We take so many things for granted,” Avril said. “When we got there, their reservoir only had an inch of water left in it.”
So Avril donated enough money to fund water for the 49 orphans for a year.
Avril and his group then helped build an elementary school, organize a mobile health unit, and set up a garden next to the school so people could grow fresh food.
Avril explained his ties to Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. “I used to go down there every summer to see my grandma, until I was about 15,” he said. “It was great to get back and remember how beautiful the island is. But at the same time, it’s very humbling to see what a poor country it is.”
Avril said he was told that it would take $3 billion to return Haiti to the economic strength it had before the earthquake — a time when it was ranked as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
“That tells you how deep a hole they’re in economically,” he said.
Avril said no one recognized him, and only the men driving them around sniffed out the identity of Lynch — known as Beast Mode even in the Caribbean.
“For the most part, he was just another person trying to help them,” Avril said. “I was so impressed with Marshawn and his dedication to doing things like that.”
Avril likes to tell the story about when organizers were going through a presentation of how they were going to build the new school. Lynch disappeared.
“He was off playing basketball and kicking soccer balls with the kids,” Avril said. “He was like, ‘Forget that formal stuff. I’m here to play with the kids.’ He is just such a great dude.”
Avril had just finished a Seahawks minicamp practice Wednesday afternoon when he was asked about his Haiti experience. He’s 30 now, but his nine sacks last season were the second-most on the team, and third-best in his eight-year career.
Being occasionally overlooked, Avril said, “is part of being on a great defense. The biggest thing for me, honestly, is that my peers see what I’ve done and appreciate that.”
Before last season, the Seahawks showed their appreciation for Avril with a four-year, $28.5 million contract.
“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help those people in Haiti,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to be able to do that. It’s humbling, very humbling, when you see the faces of those kids.”
Seahawks fans know what a talented and hard-working player Cliff Avril is. It turns out he’s somebody worth cheering during the offseason, too.