Armenian Museum board members donate NFL cleats

Wicked Local, MA
Feb 4 2021

The #PeaceForArmenians cleats that broke NFL records have made the news again as the winning bidders on Jan. 6 were revealed to be Michele Kolligian and Bob Khederian.

Kolligian and Khederian were on a mission to acquire these cleats, not for themselves, but to support the Armenia Fund and to bring awareness that another genocide is taking place in Artsakh. POWs remain imprisoned by Azerbaijan and innocent Armenian civilians are being tortured and killed and displaced from their homeland, and these atrocities have not been widely reported in the news, according to the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown.

Kolligian, president of the museum's board of trustees, and Khederian, its vice president, are donating the cleats to the museum. The duo have devoted their time and effort to keep the museum in the forefront of the Armenian and non-Armenian communities. "Proud and committed to the Armenian Museum’s mission, this recent gesture speaks to their generosity and passion for their Armenian heritage and the legacy left behind by the museum’s founders 50 years ago," the museum stated.

While the auction was going on, Kolligian and Khederian knew they were up against another determined bidder. At one point they were about to put a pause on their bidding, but with less than three minutes left to go they entered one final bid of $40,300, which sealed the deal.

“It felt like we had just won the Armenian Super Bowl,” said Kolligian and Khederian in tandem. “It was an exciting campaign and a record for the NFL’s charitable campaign."

"We give credit and our sincere thanks to Berj Najarian and the Patriots family for making this campaign a success in raising awareness about Artsakh,” said Kolligian. “In the end what made us most proud was to support the ongoing humanitarian efforts in Armenia and Artsakh and to be able to give the cleats a permanent and prominent place in the collection of the Armenian Museum.

"The icing on the cake is that the cleats will remain in New England, home to the Patriots. The cleats will be featured in a family case in the Museum and we will be using them in a creative way to raise additional funds for the children of Artsakh whose lives have been drastically impacted by this war.”

The Armenian-themed cleats were created by Armenian-American Berj Najarian, director of football and head coach administration for the New England Patriots. The NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign was initiated in 2016 as a way for players to use their voices and their influence to build support for social causes.

“The entire experience went above and beyond my expectations and was incredible and humbling to be a part of this,” said Najarian. "I was just the middleman for the extreme generosity and was thrilled to learn that Michele and Bob were the winners."

When the war in Artsakh broke out again on Sept. 27, the typically quiet and behind-the-scenes Najarian realized he had to speak up, and he started a campaign using Instagram. One of the first videos he posted was of his boss, Coach Bill Belichick, expressing concern about human rights abuses being committed against Armenians in Artsakh.

Soon thereafter, Najarian announced the auction of the one-of-a-kind cleats — which would close on Armenian Christmas — designed by Massachusetts-based artist Joseph Ventura. The shoes featured a church, khachkar cross-stone, Mount Ararat and the tricolors of the Armenian flag and were worn by Najarian on the field during three Patriots games. The shoes became a cultural phenomenon and broke NFL records for attracting the most bids in the My Cause My Cleats campaign, even surpassing cleats auctioned by all-star quarterback Tom Brady.

The Patriots are a tight-knit team, even described as "a family" by team captain Matthew Slater, who posted words of support for Armenians on social media along with linebacker Chase Winovich, wide receiver Julian Edelman, defensive back Devin McCourty and ex-Patriots star Tom Brady.

While Belichick has supported the Armenians before, notably by wearing an Armenian pin during a visit to the White House in recognition of the centennial of the Armenian genocide, the awareness around Artsakh started when Najarian made a presentation about his heritage and the history of the Armenians as part of the team’s internal social justice campaign. In preparation for this talk and his social media postings, Najarian reached out to the Armenian Museum of America for resources and advice.

“I’m fortunate and thankful to work for the Kraft family and Coach Belichick, and to be around the players," said Najarian. " It was a collective effort of rallying around each other.

"It was special. I’m already looking for what’s next. There is a lot more work to be done for Armenia."

The Armenian Museum issued a statement after the war, along with other organizations such as the Getty Museum and The Met.

“We are concerned about the Armenian monuments, artifacts, and buildings that are now threatened in areas under Azerbaijani control,” noted the statement. “This is a part of Armenia’s heritage, but it is also a part of the world’s rich culture. The Armenian Museum of America has doubled down on its mission to protect, preserve and share Armenia’s heritage so it will forever endure.”

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