A two-time Outland Trophy winner, which is awarded to college football’s most outstanding lineman while at Nebraska, you played seven seasons at center in the NFL with Cincinnati [1983-87] and Philadelphia [1988-89].
In 1993, you and former Bengals teammate Boomer Esiason helped launch the Boomer Esiason Foundation to raise money for cystic fibrosis [a life-threatening, genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive systems] research. How did that come about?
“It started with a phone call from him saying, ‘Sit down. I have some bad news for you.’
He said that (his son) Gunnar’s been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. He was looking to do something to fight it in a big way, and thought maybe he’d start his own foundation. He said if he does that, would I consider coming back to New York (from living in Hong Kong) and helping him. I took about two seconds and said, ‘Sure! Anything I can do to help out.’”
As the president of the foundation, what were your primary goals?
“The thing that I wanted to do was make sure we started off on the right foot. So I spent the initial first couple months just getting the background on the regulations and things like that. Boomer would do a lot of the meet-and-greet-type things where he’d talk about the foundation.”
How did that lead to early success?
“I think probably the biggest reason for our success is because of Boomer’s willingness to go out there and talk about the foundation, raising money for CF research, and raising money for CF scholarships and transplant grants. It just worked out real well.
“He was just at the end of his (playing) career, but still had a platform where he could speak on it. And after he got done with his football career, he went into broadcasting and really became even bigger when he became a broadcaster. That’s been a godsend for us. He’s working hard to save his son so his intentions were not for publicity. It was ‘let’s get some work done and see what kind of money we can raise.’”
How can people contribute?
“The easiest way to contribute is go to our website, www.esiason.org, and there’s a donate now button. If they don’t have the financial means to help out, they can become organ donors because there seems to be a big pinch every time that somebody needs an organ transplant, a lung transplant.”
How has the foundation brought cystic fibrosis to the public’s attention?
“I think the awareness factor just because Boomer’s on TV a lot. It’s been real important because there are only 30,000 people in the United States with cystic fibrosis. So it’s considered an orphan disease. His bringing exposure of cystic fibrosis to the general public has been great. And also, we’ve seen the lifespan increase from about 22 when we first got involved to 37 almost 38 now. So it has increased quite a bit.”
Success in sports is measured by victories. In business, it’s by sales. What’s a great day at the Boomer Esiason Foundation?
“When we can impact an individual. The ultimate goal is to find a cure for this and help the 30,000 people in the United States and the 70,000 worldwide that have it. If we can’t find a cure right away, we’ve got to impact people on a one-to-one-type deal where we can help increase the productivity of their life with a scholarship. If they’re in a bad situation as far as needing a lung transplant – the endgame for a person with cystic fibrosis is a lung transplant – if we can do anything to help them out in that time, then we’ve got a victory.
“We’ve got to keep plugging away. It’s a tough disease because you see people just wither in front of your eyes. They seem so healthy when they are in their teens. And when they get into their 20s you start seeing a steep decline in their health. And what Boomer’s done is just keep the focus on and let people know that we’re out there. We’re trying to raise money for research and to help on a one-to-one basis when they need it.”
The NFLPE "Where Are They Now?" series honors and celebrates our NFL Legends in their post-football success. Check back every two weeks for a new Q&A and learn more about our players in life after football.