cfp dominican republic 4 garcia_00003206.jpg
Super Bowl winner meets trafficking survivors
03:42 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Gary Haugen is the CEO and Founder of International Justice Mission, an international anti-slavery organization. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Story highlights

Philadelphia Eagles stars among dozens of NFL players fighting to end slavery

There is a global movement of parents, kids and other unsung heroes engaged in the battle

CNN  — 

As Americans, we love winners and heroes, don’t we? Just last Sunday, many Americans watched the Grammy Awards, and this weekend another significant award will be earned as one team will hoist the Super Bowl trophy in a confetti-filled, raucous stadium as millions watch and cheer.

But what you might not know is that long before the kickoff and commercials get underway, there is a growing movement of artists, actors and professional athletes who are standouts for much more than their performances. They are making an impact without any fanfare, simply because they want to drive global change in one of the most unreported and violent human rights issues of our time.

They are not just heroes on the stage or field, but heroes of humanity, engaged in the fight to end modern-day slavery and help millions of women, men and children begin lives free from violence and abuse.

40 million slaves

That may seem like an odd mission to some. Many aren’t aware that not only does slavery still exist, but that there are more people living in slavery now than at any point in human history – more than 40 million, according to the U.N. You read that right – more than 40 million. That’s enough people to fill up every seat in the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, every day, for more than a year and a half.

Each day there are millions like Sadhna, a 14-year-old girl living in Kolkata, India, who live in unspeakable horror, unable to escape the realities of working as the property of another human being.

Sadhna was held by terror in a tiny, hopeless room in someone’s home and violently exploited by a never-ending string of customers who paid to abuse her. But Sadhna and millions like her have hope now that the global community is rallying to make the violence stop.

More from the CNN Freedom Project

Stories like Sadhna’s are why Philadelphia Eagles stars Nick Foles, Carson Wentz, Trey Burton, Zach Ertz, Chris Maragos and Jordan Hicks are among dozens of NFL players committed to helping put the $150 billion slavery industry out of business – for good. They could be the difference between Sadhna continuing to be trapped in a private sex trafficking network or beginning a new life, where she can pursue a career and life outside the violent control of her captors. These players know that working together we can end slavery in our life time, and they’re on a mission to see it happen.

Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles tight end, was among a group of NFL Players who traveled with International Justice Mission (IJM) to the Dominican Republic last summer to learn about the sex trafficking of children there.

cfp dominican republic trafficking 2_00011426.jpg
NFL stars learn about sex trafficking
03:44 - Source: CNN

Everyday heroes

And these heroes whose names you might recognize are being joined by thousands of names that you wouldn’t recognize. There is a global movement of moms, dads, kids, teachers, corporate executives, truck drivers, and students to name a few who are also engaged in this battle to rescue those living in corners of the world unprotected from violence. They, too, are part of this team effort.

For example, last year, a 5k race was organized by a high school senior, Gracie, who had two goals: raise money and raise awareness about human trafficking and slavery. On the day of the race, 150 students, friends and family members ran together, with the dream of raising $25,000. When all the sponsorships and donations were compiled at the end of the day, Gracie and the students raised over $30,000.

“Even though we are young, we can make a huge difference in someone’s life, and the amount of money we raise this year can change the lives of many people,” said Gracie.

Every day, new heroes are joining the fight and helping make freedom possible for many like Sadhna. And that’s truly something to celebrate.

Together, you and I can be a part of the team that is shaping human history by making slavery and violence against the most vulnerable, what it can and should be – a relic of the past.

So, while you’re cheering for your football heroes this weekend, why not consider joining them in this epic fight? You may never receive a Grammy or play in the Super Bowl, but you, too, can be a hero.

Sadhna, and millions like her, are depending on us to get in the game. Join us in this fight and let’s send rescue now.

Join the CNN Freedom Project on March 14, 2018 for #MyFreedomDay – when students around the world will be holding events to raise awareness of modern slavery. Find out more at