Former Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still received the NFL Players Association Georgetown Lombardi Award at the 29th Annual Lombardi Gala on Saturday, with proceeds from the event going to benefit the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Still became an advocate for cancer research after his daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
Nearly 800 people attended the gala at the Washington Hilton, and tickets were priced at $500 each. According to Georgetown University Medical Center Director of Media Relations Karen Teber, the staff does not yet have an exact figure of how much was raised, but last year’s event raised $940,000.
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Louis Weiner viewed the night as a success.
“This year’s Lombardi Gala was a wonderful affirmation of the lifesaving work performed every day by our doctors and researchers. It was a privilege to honor Devon Still for his advocacy and receive an outpouring of support from hundreds of people committed to the fight against cancer. I’m grateful for every contribution, as each dollar raised allows us to move that much closer toward a cure,” Weiner wrote in an email.
Every year, the gala commences with a silent auction, where attendees can bid on a variety of donated items, ranging from sports paraphernalia to artwork.
The directors of the Lombardi Center, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Lombardi Gala founder Margaret L. Hodges and her children Laurie Hodges Lapeyre (GSB ’83) and Dr. Walter Hodges gave brief speeches.
In one of the most emotional moments of the night, Walter Hodges’ eyes welled with tears as he talked about his sister’s experience with breast cancer.
NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and Vince Lombardi II then presented the Lombardi Award to Still.
“I’m confident that my grandfather would be proud of everybody in this room. He would be proud of the volunteers who make this event happen. He would be proud of the folks who donate to the cancer center. He would be proud to have his name on that cancer center,” Lombardi said.
Smith lightened the mood when he took the microphone.
“It is much better that we can meet under these circumstances,” Smith joked about Tagliabue, who used to negotiate NFL policy with Smith.
Next, he mentioned that it was tough that his parents could not be there, discussing his father’s love for the Washington Redskins.
“He is 87 years old, which is also probably the last time they won a championship,” Smith said, poking fun at any fans or players who might have been in the audience.
Smith became more serious from that point forward, mentioning that his own wife battled cancer seven years prior. Smith also talked about how the NFL Players Association became involved in the cause, and how a young child that Smith coached was diagnosed with cancer. He then commended Still’s character.
“When you see a young man like that on the sideline with eye black saying ‘Leah Strong’ and a tear rolling down his eye, and that’s why we fight to an end to this disease,” Smith said. “This is why we commit ourselves to fighting for the Drew Nealys of the world, but so Leah Still can have another wonderful birthday in May.”
Still accepted his award and emphasized how he will continue to advocate for the importance of cancer research. Still mentioned Georgetown professor and oncology program co-leader Dr. Jeffrey A. Toretsky as an example of the researchers who work to find a cure.
“We watch our kids battle cancer day in and day out with a smile on their faces,” Still said. “As long as I have the platform that I have, I’m going to continue to try and raise awareness and money, so that researchers like Dr. Toretsky can one day find a cure.”
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