The funds raised from sales of the customized hats, featuring Cincinnati sports-themed colors and claw marks, support the Village of Merici in Indianapolis — a non-profit living community and service provider for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
This week especially, Karras’ charitable contributions are in the spotlight. He was named the Bengals’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, acknowledging players who excel on the field and demonstrate a passion for creating a lasting positive impact in their communities.
“It’s a humongous honor,” Karras said. “I’m so grateful to everyone who supported this project. It really wasn’t anything that I expected or ever kind of sought out to do. It will be one of the coolest things we get to do is to make an impact like this. But the main sentiment I want to express is gratitude toward the Cincinnati community because this is a nomination for everyone. The outpouring of generosity that Cincy has shown me and the Village of Merici and our sister city in Indianapolis has made me speechless at times.”
Karras began the Cincy Hat project in November 2022, personally matching $100,000 in donations and hat orders to get the initiative started. Through online sales and three community events hosted by Karras, over 22,000 hats have been sold to date, with new designs introduced as well as T-shirts, polos, visors and onesies.
The 30-year-old center then matched an additional $120,000 in donations and orders during Giving Tuesday last week. In one year, The Cincy Hat project has generated more than $800,000 in sales, with all proceeds of over $325,000 going directly to Village of Merici.
Among Karras’ goals is for the revenue generated from the hats to help Village of Merici serve more adults with developmental disabilities through direct services and independent housing opportunities. In the past 12 months, Village of Merici has expanded the number of adults it supports by 60 percent.
“We’ve been able to essentially double the amount of housing we’ve been able to provide just from this project, so it’s been a big deal,” Karras said.
Karras has been supporting the Village of Merici since he entered the NFL in 2016, but he’s also been present in the local community. This week, he paid a visit to Kettering Health in Hamilton, posing for pictures and presenting hats and/or onesies to new parents, cancer patients receiving infusion and individuals in inpatient rehab, and he’s done other events throughout his time in Cincinnati as well.
A leader on and off the field, Karras was an easy pick for the Walter Payton Award nomination. He’s also been a stabilizing force on the Bengals offensive line the past two years.
“I think it’s a combination of on-field performance, which is the bulk of our job, mixed with obviously off-the-field impact, and to be in a position that I’m in, I’ll never take that for granted,” Karras said when asked what the nomination means to him. “And to be able to execute a project that so many people have bought into is so special. I’m also a huge fan of Walter Payton, ‘Sweetness.’ He’s always been one of my favorite players of all time and obviously was a tremendous man off the field.”
Born in Chicago, Karras has been a lifelong Bears fan, which made it impossible to change allegiances to the Colts when he moved to Indianapolis in eighth grade. He even recalled proudly wearing his Brian Urlacher jersey to school as everyone else was decked out in white and blue ahead of the 2006 Super Bowl between the Bears and Colts.
And while he’s got a large contingent coming to the game Sunday, they will be wearing black and orange. Karras, who will wear Cincy Hat-inspired cleats for the “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative, hopes to represent them and Cincinnati well as the Bengals seek to build momentum from a big overtime win in Jacksonville on Monday.
“Our fan base can get emotional, but very fairly, so I love the fans here,” Karras said. “This is a performance business, and in this city, you better perform, and I’m glad we did it Monday night. I’m sure Paycor is going to be rocking again, not that it’s ever not but to go into Jacksonville on Monday night and win with 16 million people watching, it was a big deal.”
Colts at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7