“The entire experience went above and beyond my expectations and was incredible and humbling to be a part of this. I was just the middleman for the extreme generosity and was thrilled to learn that Michele and Bob were the winners,” Najarian recalled.
When the war in Artsakh broke out again on September 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 even ex-Patriots star Tom Brady.
While Coach 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. 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,” Najarian said.
The Armenian Museum issued a statement after the war, along with other influential 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.”