- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

Football-loving Washington was out in force Thursday night at the annual National Football League Players Gala. Broadcasters James “JB” Brown and Michael Wilbon presented the 41st Byron “Whizzer” White Award and 15 JB Awards to recognize outstanding behavior off the field by members of the NFL.

Tables for 10, each representing a $5,000 donation, filled the ballroom of the Washington Hilton, where a silent auction and a postprandial call for donations helped raise more than $1 million for Special Olympics DC.

Dinner was a protein-intense affair designed to satisfy some very large appetites, with two cheeses in the salad, substantial crab cakes and a prime rib thick enough to kick through goal posts.

Local business leader Fernando Murias of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a major supporter, mingled happily with football stars from around the country as other lucky guests watched Mr. Brown and Mr. Wilbon interview them on stage in between sweaty, kinetic performances from the Dem Boyz Step Team.

Mr. Wilbon took the opportunity to mock disgraced shock-jock Don Imus: “You know JB, I hear there’s a radio show with an opening for a host, if you’re interested. I think it’s a CBS operation?”

Prominent among the XXL-sized tuxedos was Redskin Renaldo Wynn, accompanied by wife LaTanya. Among the numerous charitable activities of their Family of Faith Foundation, the Wynns hand out stacks of Target gift cards every year so families in need can do their holiday shopping.

The winner of the Whizzer White Award, named for the late Byron R. White, a Detroit Lions star prior his eminent career as a Supreme Court justice, was chosen from the 10 JB-winning players by three judges: former NFL Players Inc. President Doug Allen (now of the Screen Actors Guild), Washington Mystics President Sheila Johnson, and longtime sports show host George Michael. Mr. Brown outlined substantial contributions to their communities by all 10 nominees: Mr. Wynn; Darnell Dinkins (Cleveland Browns); Donald Driver (Green Bay Packers); Ryan Nece (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Shaun O’Hara (New York Giants); Chad Pennington (New York Jets); Duane Starks (Oakland Raiders); heartthrob Jason Taylor (Miami Dolphins); freshly retired Seattle Seahawk Grant Wistrom; and John Lynch of the Denver Broncos.

Mr. Brown also awarded five special JB awards to the following: the New Orleans Saints, for dedication to their hometown after Hurricane Katrina; retired Cowboys coach Everson Walls, for donating a kidney to stricken teammate Ron Springs; retired St. Louis Ram Marshall Faulk, for major contributions to the underprivileged since 1994; American Football League founder and Super Bowl inventor Lamar Hunt (posthumously); and Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and, just this past season, the first black coach to win the Super Bowl. Mr. Dungy received the loudest applause, but all the honorees were warmly welcomed. After taunting the Redskins-loving crowd by asking “any friends of the Cowboys here tonight?,” Mr. Brown drew cheers with his modified question: “All right, how many friends of Everson Walls?” Redskin hero Troy Vincent spoke as well.

In the end, the statue went to Mr. Lynch for dedicated charity work including recognition of high school athletes who keep up their grades, raising $2 million for a Boys & Girls Club, and sending dozens of impoverished youngsters through college.

Speaking of the recent NFL decision to suspend players for one year when they are involved in repeated lawbreaking, Mr. Lynch drew a contrast between the behavior of “a few bad apples” and the majority of players, as exemplified by the sporting philanthropists gathered on stage.

“This is my NFL,” he said, gesturing to his fellows players in the room.

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