Redskins Rookie's Mission

The Redskins dive into preparations for the upcoming season.
By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 27, 2008

For three days in July, Malcolm Kelly visited a place where few cared whether he becomes a star in the NFL. During that time, he walked without the expectations of a second-round draft choice of the Washington Redskins, for whom the 6-foot-4, 219-pound wide receiver is a promising prospect.

Kelly went back to the continent of his ancestors, lending a hand and a smile to people in Liberia, where 80 percent of the 3.3 million residents live below the poverty line and could not even fathom Kelly's $3.36 million rookie contract.

Kelly traveled to Monrovia, the capital, July 5-10 to raise awareness for Mercy Ships, a global charity that operates floating hospitals in developing countries. Two days were spent traveling, three days visiting a country that underwent almost continuous civil war for 14 years until 2004.

The ship included a crew of 450 providing free medical care to those in need. Kelly traveled with his father, Moses, and his trainer, Chip Smith. Kelly and Smith worked with Liberian athletes and left what Smith estimated as $10,000 of training equipment for the Liberians.

Kelly's main role was to increase visibility for an organization he elected to sponsor upon learning about it from his college roommate, Manuel Johnson. Kelly said Johnson's godfather is involved in Mercy Ships.

Before Kelly was drafted by the Redskins or cashed his first paycheck, he supported Mercy Ships. Yet even with all he heard, Kelly was unprepared for what he witnessed during those few days in Liberia.

"It was life-changing," Kelly said. "You come over here, you take so much for granted. You go over to the water fountain and have a drink. You have water bottles everywhere. It was shocking."

Some of the most powerful memories for Kelly were the people in need of health care. Those with correctable medical conditions such as cataracts, clubfoot, and cleft lip and palate, among others, seldom receive medical attention.

Kelly witnessed a child undergo treatment for clubfoot. For Kelly, who relies on his feet in part to earn a living, it was a lasting image. He explained the visual after practice on Thursday, bending his cleats to appear as if he were standing on the side of his feet. This, Kelly said, is what the kid looked like when he walked.

"It's bad, man," Kelly said. "Real bad."

Kyle Rahn, Mercy Ships' director of U.S. development who joined Kelly on the trip, said the most touching moment she observed came as Kelly visited with a burn victim. "Her face was disconfigured," Rahn said. "Her nose was gone, ears gone. . . . She was pretty frightening looking."

"What happened? What's wrong with this gal?" Kelly asked Rahn. He approached the burn victim, spoke to her, touched her, laughed with her.

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