Frank Reich is heading to Los Angeles this week for an important mission.
A year after he became head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Reich and his wife, Linda, formed kNot Today, a nonprofit that works to prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation. Their foundation is among five organizations working together at the Super Bowl to combat sex trafficking, which is often heightened around major events.
"This is one of the most horrific crimes," Reich said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. "Children who are actually looking to adults to protect them and nurture them and help them to grow up to live mature, holistic lives are the actual ones who adults are using — that trust the children are placing in them and then exploiting them and abusing them for their own good. It doesn't get any worse than that."
Former Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone formed The Alliance Against Human Trafficking and Exploitation, consisting of kNOT Today and four other groups. With support from the NFL and the Los Angeles Super Bowl Host Committee, the goal is to disrupt the illicit operations and assist victims.
"We have a real problem in America, with our children being under attack, being targeted by predators, and it's scary," said Malone, co-founder and CEO of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking. "It's evil and people aren't talking enough about it."
Reich and his wife along with daughter Lia are working to not only raise more awareness and help bring prevention, but their foundation also focuses on aiding victims in the area of mental health.
"We're doing everything we can to prevent this from happening, but the reality is it's still going on and in crazy numbers," Reich said. "There's a lot of people who are needing help. Even when a child is restored, when they're rescued, there's a lifelong battle to get back to full mental health."
The Colts offer support through the Irsay Family's "Kicking the Stigma" initiative, which raises awareness about mental health disorders.
"It's such a blessing for us to be connected right with them," Reich said.
Reich's NFL journey has included stops in many cities. He played for the Bills, Panthers, Jets and Lions and served as an assistant coach for the Colts, Cardinals, Chargers and Eagles. Along the way, the Reichs discovered child trafficking is prevalent across the country.
"It's everywhere. It knows no boundaries," Reich said. "We all know the international things and we've seen the movies and we've seen the statistics and the clips, which keep us up at night. But there's equally bad stuff going on in neighborhoods that are right near us that are all over U.S. cities, smaller trafficking rings of children being sexually abused and exploited in horrific ways. That's what we have found out more than anything.
"So, we're really taking a multi-level approach. It is grassroots, boots on the ground in these small communities making a difference, but also using the NFL platform to have a major impact on a national and international level."
Reich and the Colts had a disappointing finish to their season, losing the last two games to finish 9-8 and fall one win short of the playoffs. But Reich says the team isn't "far off" from being a Super Bowl contender.
"Looking back on the end of the season, it was rough, but you learn from it," he said. "A little bit of it will linger. We'll remember and use it as motivation going forward."
In his four seasons with the Colts, Reich has had four starting quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz. Despite the criticism he faced for the Colts' failure to reach the postseason, Wentz has Reich's support.
"When we got him here, we knew he was coming off a rough year," Reich said of Wentz, who was acquired from Philadelphia in a trade last February. "But I thought Carson did a lot of great things. It was fun to be reunited with him. Obviously, we have a close relationship. When I think back to how our team progressed, how he progressed, a ton of good stuff. We're all sitting here looking at ourselves at 9-8, missing the playoffs, saying, ‘I could have coached better.' Every player saying, ‘We could have played a little bit better.'
"But when I look at some of the things Carson did, like 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions, that's a pretty impressive year. There are a lot of other things he did, made some big plays in big moments. So a lot of good things for him, a lot of good things for our team, even in spite of the difficult season. But we just have to learn, all of us have to learn, and get better."
Reich will have a familiar opponent in the AFC South next year. The Jaguars hired former Eagles coach Doug Pederson to replace Urban Meyer. Reich was Philadelphia's offensive coordinator under Pederson when the Eagles won the Super Bowl four years ago.
"It's going to be amazing," Reich said. "Love Doug. We're very close. We continue to stay in touch. I'm so happy for him and obviously well-deserved, a Super Bowl-winning head coach. I honestly wish it wasn't in our division because he and I are so close, but we'll have fun with it. It's certainly great for the city of Jacksonville."