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Jason Pierre-Paul embraces role model status after hand injury

Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants

Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants warms up during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 8, 2015 in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann

The Giants didn't play last weekend, but you may have seen one of Jason Pierre-Paul's most significant highlights of the season on television anyway.

The defensive end reached out to Seamus Bohannon, 11, of Folsom, Pennsylvania, after learning that the young football player had parts of two fingers amputated after a recent bicycle accident. An interview with Bohannon and his sister Janie, who set up the FaceTime meeting, aired on "SportsCenter" while the Giants were on their bye.

"It means a lot," Pierre-Paul said, not referring to what the conversation did for Bohannon but to what it did for himself. "At first, I didn't really see it, but with my situation that happened, now I see things differently. It's a blessing for me to reach out and touch the kids, talk to them. Especially kids who have special needs or anything that happened to them."

Pierre-Paul has undergone a few life-changing, perspective-shaking experiences in the past year. The obvious one is the fireworks mishap that cost him his right index finger, parts of two other fingers and nearly half of the 2015 season. Another has been his adjustment to fatherhood. His 11-month-old son Josiah has made him realize that other kids look up to him, and the responsibilities that entails.

"I'm a role model," Pierre-Paul said. "What happened to me, a lot of kids were like, 'Dang, what's he going to do now?' It's just keep on doing what I do. When a role model tells you it's going to be OK, it's going to be OK. They look up to that. I'm blessed that I was able to talk to him."

When Pierre-Paul was going through the aftermath of his injury, he didn't have anyone like that to talk to. Yes, he said, he had close friends in his corner, "but that don't mean anything." Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, who played without the tip of a finger for much of his career, touched base with him. That hardly resonated with Pierre-Paul, though, whose grip on football lore is about as strong as his son's.

"At the end of the day, it's different situations," he said of his and Lott's missing-finger fraternity. "And that was back in the day, this is now. So really it was all up to me to come in, to focus . . . It was all up to me."

Now, though, he's able to share his story with those who find themselves in similar situations.

Pierre-Paul said he used to visit kids in hospitals and help out when the Make-a-Wish program came to the Giants or when Tom Coughlin's Jay Fund needed an appearance. But he feels a much more kindred spirit with the young people he talks to these days. And it has made those efforts more significant in his own life.

"It means more to me now because it actually happened to me," he said. "A situation like this, I'm blessed to be alive and reaching out to kids."

Pierre-Paul said Bohannon is doing better. "He got discouraged, but he's OK," he said. "He's in good spirits now."

In the "SportsCenter" interview, Bohannon said Pierre-Paul told him to keep working hard and encouraged him to maintain participation in sports. "You'll be faster and better at every sport if you do the rehab correctly," he said of the message.

There aren't a lot of players from whom Bohannon could have heard that and believed it. Pierre-Paul may, in fact, be the only one. It's a responsibility he now takes more seriously whenever he speaks to a youngster who has had a setback -- hand injury or otherwise -- in a language only they can share.

"I'm just a player telling them what's going on in my life," Pierre-Paul said. "I'm living proof."

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