Playing 4 a Purpose



Former Bomber paying it forward

By Alison Mintenko-Crane

As I walk across the restaurant to where former Blue Bomber Kelly Butler sits at a booth waiting for me, he rises to shake my hand and I’m momentarily in awe of our size difference; he stands a whopping 6’8” while I squeak in just under 5’5”. What I’m soon to realize though, is that this man’s heart and drive are an equal match for his stature.

We’re here to talk about his organization (recently turned foundation), Playing 4 a Purpose. Officially in its second year of existence, the focal point of the foundation – at least for now – are football games between high school teams in Kenora, Brandon and here in Winnipeg at Investors Group Field.

The focus of the games is on building partnerships with high school football programs, teaching the youth involved about discipline, goals and commitment, all while providing them with the support team to achieve those goals.

They are goals which Kelly himself had help with, after a tragic youth of his own. By the age of 12, he’d lost his parents at separate times, both quite horrifically. He explains how even with those two incredible losses, especially at such a young age, he thrived with the help of others. Coaches, parents, and even teammates did what they could to guide him on the right path – which happened to be the path to the football field – when it would have been easy for him to veer off.

“I had to take that pain – that hurt – from losing both my mother and my father, being really mad at the world, and utilizing that. Anger’s not a bad thing if you use it in a positive way. So I took all that aggression and anger out on the football field, and it was an escape from the reality of how bad my life was. My real world was horrible, but my escape was football. It allowed me to go out there and be a different person, and that was kind of the beginning,” Kelly explains.

“A lot of people were very nurturing and helped me to be able to have some sort of normal lifestyle. As I was able to elevate through high school and college professionally, I always remembered that these guys did that, and if I ever got in a position to be able to give back, I would,” he says. And giving back he is.

Since retiring from the CFL, Kelly has gotten his Canadian permanent residency, has a job at a dealership at the Waverley Automall, works at a youth group home, and on top of all that, runs the foundation. Paying forward all the niceties, love and discipline bestowed upon him in his youth is something very near and dear to his heart.

“I had strong male and female role models that allowed me to rebuild myself when I was broken, believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and kept me motivated through the trials and tribulations,” he says. “With that implemented into me and having that as my foundation, when I got here [to Winnipeg] I said ‘How can I give this back to these kids? How can I pay it forward? How can I help these kids find their purpose?’ And that’s what happened with the foundation, working at the group home, and being involved with the community. I have a group of about 40 people working together who have been able to give me the support to go out there and do this.”

Playing 4 a Purpose also works alongside the MS Society, bringing awareness and support to the disease. Kelly’s mother suffered from MS, and it just made sense that he be an ambassador on the MS Walk. While on the walk, he was very emotionally affected, thinking of his mother and all that he could do to help out those who needed it, youth in particular. He decided to call on his own experience in the CFL and NFL and everything he’d been through in his life and use it to help kids in the way he knew best; through football.

What began with one football game last year has expanded into games in three cities this year, along with talks of everything else the foundation hopes to achieve. The plan is to expand across Canada and into the U.S., all while adding more to the program itself.

“We’re continually bringing in more and more celebrities, local business people – each year, it expands – that’s Playing 4 a Purpose. But on the other side, I want to have this leadership program where we bring in more people and it’s just like a group home. More expanded and more elaborate where we can go out there and take the kids to different jobs and really just be a support system to have them experience different things. We’re growing it.”

All of the proceeds from the games themselves go back into the community. Ticket sales are divided up between the MS Society, high school football, and the foundation itself in order to continue the growth in its programs.

And it seems that Winnipeg is all about supporting Kelly and his team’s endeavours to grow the foundation.

Kelly says it best himself: “People in Winnipeg want you to be successful. They go out of their way to help people, and don’t want anything in return. They just wish for you to be successful, and that’s what makes this place easy to be in. I couldn’t have done this anywhere else.”

For more information on the foundation or the Playing 4 a Purpose games, visit