After the Baltimore Ravens won the AFC Championship and earned the right to play in Sunday's Super Bowl, the team celebrated in its locker room with former player O.J. Brigance, now a team executive. As Brigance was interviewed with his team surrounding him, he spoke using the same DynaVox system that Augie Nieto uses.
Brigance, like Augie, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease). With the white-hot spotlight on preparations for Sunday's Super Bowl in New Orleans, awareness of ALS has grown to another level.
Not only is Brigance in New Orleans with his Ravens, but another former football player diagnosed with ALS, Steve Gleason of the hometown Saints, is getting the word out with the help of several NFL players and coaches in a new video.
Augie, the chief inspirational leader for this industry's Augie's Quest fundraising initiative, is pleased with the attention ALS is receiving this week.
"I would like to thank all of the NFL players who are doing their part to raise awareness and funds for ALS research," Augie wrote me in an email Tuesday. "I look up to Kevin Turner, O.J.Brigance and Steve Gleason and support their efforts. The Kevin Turner Foundation has generously supported MDA's Augie's Quest over the past two years. I'm optimistic that we will find an effective treatment soon thanks to our partnership and the support of so many others."
Many researchers are linking the cause of ALS to concussions suffered from repeated head trauma. A study published last September by the American Academy of Neurology showed that former NFL players are four times as likely to die from ALS.
Brigance and Gleason, who was featured in a USA Today article this week, are former special-teams players who often ran full-speed down the field and made head-to-head contact with opposing players. Turner, a former Philadelphia Eagles fullback who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, did the same type of hitting while paving the way for fellow running backs.
Concussions are top of mind in the NFL today. Most players with concussions or concussion-like symptoms do not go back into the game and may even have to sit out the following game.
The topic drew national attention in 2010 after The New York Times published an article examining Lou Gehrig himself and the numerous concussions he suffered in his baseball career with the New York Yankees, mostly from beanings from opposing pitchers. Some authors say Gehrig may not have had the disease that bears his name. The article also makes a brief mention linking military veterans with ALS from the concussions they suffered in combat.
An ALS cure remains unknown, but efforts to find a cure continue. On Tuesday, Augie tweeted out the next fundraising event: An Exclusive Evening with Ditka & Friends, benefitting The Kevin Turner Foundation and Gridiron Greats, an assistance fund for former NFL players spearheaded by former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (pictured above with Augie at the Athletic Business show in 2010). The event will take place Friday night at The Foundry in New Orleans.
Augie's Quest has raised millions of dollars for research—more than $35 million since 2006. (Clubs for the Quest alone raised more than $1 million in 2012.) The eighth annual Bash for Augie's Quest is set for March 21 at the IHRSA show in Las Vegas. Weeks removed from the spotlight of the Super Bowl, the Bash will raise more dollars and awareness to battle this mysterious disease.