04/05/2013 09:46 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Erin Henderson 'Sacks For Cats': Minnesota Vikings Linebacker Donates $5000 To National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative

WASHINGTON -- Minnesota Vikings linebacker and former University of Maryland football player Erin Henderson gave the National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative a check for $5000 on Thursday. The check will go toward National Geographic's big cats education and conservation program.

sacks for cats

A media release traces the Maryland native's interest in these animals back to longtime animal welfare advocate Betty White:

During the 2012-2013 NFL season, Henderson agreed to make a monetary donation to BCI for every football sack he made during the regular season, which he called “Sacks for Cats.” His goal was to help raise awareness about the decline of lions, tigers, cheetahs and other big cat species in the wild. Through this effort, Henderson also hoped to inspire other NFL players to join him and “cause an uproar” for big cats.

Henderson said that his inspiration to help save big cats comes from “his inner lion roaring.” After seeing a public service announcement featuring actress Betty White on the decline of big cats around the world, which aired during Nat Geo WILD’s Big Cat Week, Henderson decided he wanted to help. He contacted National Geographic and offered to raise both awareness and funds through his “Sacks for Cats” campaign.

“The numbers (of big cats remaining in the wild) are frightening,” said Henderson. “When my two-year-old son is older, I don’t want to talk to him about lions the way we now talk about dinosaurs. It is important for all of us to do something now, before it is too late.”

In March, Henderson signed a two-year contract with the Vikings that is reportedly worth $4 million.

The world's big cats aren't faring as well. From a National Geographic fact sheet:

Big cats are in trouble, from lions in Kenya to snow leopards in the Himalaya. The icons of the natural world — lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, jaguars and other top felines — are quickly disappearing, victims of habitat loss and degradation as well as conflicts with humans. The loss of these majestic predators could create a devastating impact on our ecosystem; losing them means not only loss of keystone species but also destruction of the natural balance affecting entire environmental systems, including people.

"We hope other athetles will be inspired by Erin's efforts and also support National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative," National Geographic spokesperson Rachel Bruton told The Huffington Post. "National Geographic is excited to continue our collaboration with Erin through his 'Sacks for Big Cats' campaign and of course we hope he will make many more sacks next season."

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