The Football Girl: On the Scene at the NFL PLAYERS Gala

JB, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Brian Dawkins (Photo credit: Kevin Koski/NFLPA)

WASHINGTON DC – A man who loves to take away on the field, loves giving back off it even more.   So were the words of the always poignant James Brown, as he announced Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha the winner of the 2010 Byron “Whizzer” White Award at the NFL PLAYERS Gala featuring the JB Awards, held last night at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington D.C.  The award, the NFLPA’s top honor, recognizes the NFL player that best exemplifies the humanitarian spirit of White, the late College Football Hall of Famer and Supreme Court Justice.

Although Asomugha was named the winner, all the finalists are great humanitarians, deeply committed to their respective causes.  The finalists, many of whom I had the opportunity to interview, were:  Matt Birk (Ravens Center), Mike Furrey (Browns WR), Bradie James (Cowboys LB), Madieu Williams (Vikings Safety), John Carlson (Seahawks TE), Marlin Jackson (Colts CB), and Danny Clark (Giants LB).  (Note: Click on their names to read more about their off-the-field contributions.)

Also receiving JB Awards were emerging humanitarians, Maurice Jones-Drew and Percy Harvin (both on our interview docket as well).  And, a new NFLPA category was introduced this year: The Kenny Washington Award, honoring those who have been trailblazers in some facet of the game. The Washington award honorees were Redskin favorite, Hall of Fame Redskin Bobby Mitchell and George Taliaferro, the first African-American selected in the NFL draft.  Proceeds from the event went to the Special Olympics.

George Taliaferro and DeMaurice Smith

(Photo credit: Kevin Koski/NFLPA)

On a personal note, it was an honor to cover such a meaningful event.  All too often we thrive on the negative in sport because, just like the local or national news leading with something gruesome, we know it gets ratings.  But when you not only hear the story of a player dedicating his every free moment to combating breast cancer or helping orphans in Nigeria, but also see the connectedness of that player to his particular cause, it’s truly inspiring.

But even an inspirational evening such as this had some humorous spots. Highlights included:

  • Jeremy Shockey in a suit, hair long and stringy (enough said)
  • Darnell Dockett talking up his Twitter account to anyone who would listen
  • Maurice Jones-Drew receiving a faint applause, followed by a virtual standing ovation for London Fletcher. (I know London Fletcher is a Redskin and we were in Redskinsville, but c’mon man!)
  • NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith revealing his inner Packer fan as he introduced former Packers FB William Henderson TWICE

Back to the man of the night, Nnamdi Asomugha.  I had a chance to briefly chat with him moments before he was whisked away to receive his big award.  We talked about his charitable endeavors, prospects for NFL Nigeria — and Nnamdi made a bold prediction for his California Golden Bears.

The Football Girl:  Talk about what it means to be at JB Awards tonight.

Nnamdi Asomugha: It’s exciting. This is an event they’ve been doing for a few years. I’ve been nominated a few times but to actually be invited is something I will cherish. We never expect to get awards for the things that we do, but every now and then I think it’s good for us.  It helps motivate us to keep it going.

TFG: For those that don’t know, can you talk about some of your efforts in the local and international communities?

NA:  I’ll tell you about my biggest thing.  It’s the ACTS, meaning Asomugha College Tour for Scholars that I do and I take a group of California high school students on a tour across the country every year. That’s my biggest endeavor right now that I’m involved in. On the international level, my family’s foundation OWIN (Orphans and Widows in Need) is another big deal for us.  We’re helping out with orphans and widows in different rural areas of Nigeria.

TFG: Talk about the influx of players from Nigeria.  It’s sort of become NFL2 over there.

NA: It’s true, and you’ve seen it grow over the last couple of decades. When you talk about Christian Okoye, the Nigerian Nightmare, and that was the first time people were getting a clue on these Nigerian guys who were and what types of athletes they are.  Now it’s just grown; there are a couple of every team. We always make it a point to shake the other one’s hands, say hello and tell a funny joke here and there.

TFG:  Kind of like the Prius owners that all honk at each other?

NA:  Exactly (laughing)

TFG: The NFL has the UK Series, and it’s business first, but do you think it’s crazy to consider an NFL game being played in Nigeria?

NA:  I don’t think it’s crazy at all. I don’t think we’re a year away or anything, but if there’s a growing number of people that are interested, which some of my colleagues are doing.  They’re going back to Nigeria and seeing who’s interested.   If you get that, it could happen within the next five or so years. Great athletes over there and a lot of us over here can show them the way.

TFG:  Thanks for the time, and you’re getting summoned to go, but first give me a quick Cal predication.

NA: Well, I don’t think we’re not in the Top 25, which shocked me. And if we are, we’re really low.  But we will be there.  I don’t know the record, but we will end as a top ten team

TFG:  Thanks again, Nnamdi

NA:  Thank you.
Check back in the coming days for more interviews from the NFL PLAYERS Gala