Allen Hurns' cause, jersey number are in honor of Parkland shooting victims

Allen Hurns wore No. 88 while playing in Jacksonville, but the shooting of 17 students and staff members in Parkland, Florida, inspired his number change in Dallas. George Walker/Icon Sportswire

FRISCO, Texas -- When wide receiver Allen Hurns turned on his television last Valentine’s Day, he was horrified, like millions of Americans.

The scenes from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staff members were killed in a mass shooting, gripped him. This wasn’t far from the Miami home where he grew up. He had friends with children in the school system and wondered if they were OK. He made calls. He sent text messages. He checked social media.

Over and over.

“I’m big on family, so I can’t imagine what they were going through,” Hurns said.

In March, Hurns signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys, deciding to leave his home state for the first time. He grew up in Miami and played at Carol City Senior High School. He attended the University of Miami. When he wasn’t drafted, he joined the Jacksonville Jaguars.

When he came to the Cowboys, he wanted to take a piece of Florida with him.

He chose No. 17 to honor those lost in Parkland. This week, the names of the victims will be painted on the cleats he will wear against the Philadelphia Eagles as part of the My Cleats, My Cause campaign. Two organizations started by parents who lost a child that day, Make Our Schools Safe and Safe Schools for Alex, will be featured on his cleats as well.

Every time Hurns pulls on his jersey, at practice or a game, he says, he thinks about the victims.

“The hardest part of it was going down there and meeting with the families and hearing their stories,” said Hurns, who wore No. 88 with the Jaguars. “There’s some things that give them some hope. Me wearing the jersey. Them having rallies. Things like that mean a lot.”

During the Cowboys’ bye week, Hurns went to the school and heard students' stories. He met with Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter, Alyssa, was a captain of her club soccer team. He spoke with Max Schachter, whose son Alex was a big football and basketball fan.

They were 14.

“I felt that he wanted to honor the 17 that were lost, and by him changing his number, he’s honoring them,” Alhadeff said. “For me as a parent, I don’t want anybody to forget my daughter, Alyssa, and we don’t want to forget the 17 lives that were taken on this event on 2/14. We need to remember them, their names, their faces, what they look like.”

Said Schachter: “I really appreciate the support from him and the Cowboys because this needs to be brought to the forefront again. Unfortunately, people forget, and they go on with their lives and don’t think that it can ever happen again. We can make our schools safe. It needs to be people like him and the Cowboys and the NFL to talk about it and to make people understand that, back in the day, times were different ... The No. 1 priority of every school, every district: Make sure a kid goes home to their parents because if they don’t, nothing else matters.”

As much as Alhadeff and Schachter appreciate what Hurns is doing by bringing attention to the topic, they are frustrated by the lack of substantive change that has occurred since the Parkland shooting and are doing what they can to further their cause.

Alhadeff was elected to the Broward County School Board.

“After my daughter was killed, I wanted to make a change,” Alhadeff said. “That’s why we started the nonprofit to make our schools safe, and then it became clear to me that to make sure change actually happened, I needed a seat at the table. That’s why I ran for the school board. Parkland is my home. This is my community. I wanted to make a change here, fight for change here and directly affect change. I have two boys. This is where they go to school, and Alyssa’s friends go to school. I wanted to make an impact in Broward County ... Each school board member has something they’re passionate about. School safety is my passion.”

Schachter was appointed to the commission to investigate the shooting and has met with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He is pushing for a best-practices document that will standardize school safety nationally. He hopes that in January the Department of Education will come up with a clearinghouse to help schools across the country.

"He seems like he really cares and he wants to make a difference. For him to change his number to 17, to wear the cleats, it means a lot to us." Max Schachter

“School districts, they don’t know what to do,” Schachter said. “Every school district has to go out and become a ballistic expert and a door expert, and it’s so hard and so complicated. That’s why if we create these best practices, then schools have a place to go and get the documents and find out what to do and what not to do. There’s so many lessons to be learned from Parkland that if you just implement that, your school would be that much safer.”

Hurns remembers his school being on lock-down on a number of occasions when he was in high school.

“For us, it wasn’t a big thing, but now looking back at it, that shouldn’t be the norm,” Hurns said. “So going back, I want to start at my high school for sure but also just meet with some more family members. My main thing for me with them is just try to gain some more knowledge on it, see what some of the things they’re doing and trying to help them out. They don’t have the same platform I do. I just want to try to create some awareness.”

Hurns saw Alyssa Alhadeff’s bedroom and pictures of her playing soccer. He saw the Tom Brady poster on Alex Schachter’s bedroom wall. In the offseason, he plans to go back to the school and meet with students and talk to more families. The money raised in the auction for Hurns’ cleats will go to the families’ foundations.

The number switch and cleats are small gestures but ones he hopes and the parents hope can lead to change.

“He seems like he really cares and he wants to make a difference,” Schachter said. “For him to change his number to 17, to wear the cleats, it means a lot to us. And to take this issue on that is so close to him for him and for us, I think with his help we can make a difference, and we can make schools safe.”