The NFL Players Association and PLAYERS INC honored 32 players voted as "Unsung Heroes" by their teammates at the annual NFL Fever/NFL Players Awards Gala held at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC on Thursday, April 10.
The event, which capped two days of activity for the players including a Washington Wizards home game and a Special Olympics basketball game, featured the presentation of 32 "Unsung Hero" awards. The awards recognize the one player from each of the NFL's teams who best exemplifies dedication and love of football, fans, and community. These players rarely get the spotlight and often do not receive recognition for their contributions to the community.
At the gala, which featured a cocktail reception, silent auction, dinner, and entertainment, 17 of the winners were on hand to accept their awards in person. "I'm grateful to my teammates for choosing me," said Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Frank Sanders, a first-time winner. "It's a wonderful opportunity for guys who give 100 percent but don't really don't get as much recognition as they should for all they are doing. I think it's a wonderful thing for the NFLPA to do."
One Unsung Hero, Brian Mitchell, who won his award as a member of the Eagles but has since signed with the New York Giants, received the first-ever Kid's Choice Award given to a player for commitment to youth programs.
San Diego Chargers linebacker Donnie Edwards, honored by his teammates for his tireless work with children through his "Best Defense Foundation," was helped by several community-based organizations as a child growing up outside San Diego and knows athletes can make a huge difference. "Anytime we come in the community and do something it makes a difference," he said. "It sure made a difference when I was a kid."
Raiders tight end Roland Williams, who attended the event despite recent toe surgery, accepted his award as a representative of all of those who are active in the community but don't get the recognition they may deserve. "There are a lot of unsung heroes in this world," he said. "I think tonight was a tribute to all of the people who make the world go round and don't get much recognition."
Like most of the winners, Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila wasn't seeking recognition for his community endeavors. "I'm the type of person who doesn't like to be recognized," he commented. "I just like to do my thing. I don't do it for the recognition. But it is a great award and I do appreciate it."
Also presented at the gala was the Byron "Whizzer" White Award, the NFLPA's most prestigious honor which is named for Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Justice Byron "Whizzer" White. White was a remarkable athlete who exemplified leadership on and off the field through his humanitarian efforts and his public service achievements as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. This year's recipient was Troy Vincent, cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Vincent, who founded the "Troy Vincent Foundation," also works with numerous organizations including the Police Athletic League, The Make-A-Wish Foundation, United Progress Inc, and the Boys & Girls Clubs. He also was named the NFL's "Man-of-the-Year" in 2000. "Anytime you are recognized by your peers it is always special," Vincent said. "The National Football League had given me and my peers a tremendous platform to have a great influence in our communities and our homes. We're role models whether we want to accept it or not. It's part of our life. We are ambassadors."
The gala, which was emceed by Bonnie Bernstein of CBS Sports and Rene Knott of WJLA-TB in Washington, was filmed for a one-hour television special set to air in early August on Fox Sports Net.
All proceeds from the NFL Fever/NFL Players Awards Gala benefit Special Olympics DC.