One Sunday morning while sitting at mass, then a struggling entertainer, Danny Thomas, put his livelihood on the line. Hard up for work and with a baby on the way, Thomas found himself sitting in a church pew. Moved by the words spoken at the service that day, he tossed the last $7 to his name into the collection plate.
Years later, after becoming a successful entertainer, that action led Thomas in part to create the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude, which treats over 67,000 patients free of cost annually, hosts the Legends for Charity event each during Super Bowl weekend in the city where the big game is played.
The Super Bowl presents the perfect opportunity to shine a light on St. Jude’s efforts in eradicating childhood cancer and disease. This is because, the NFL family is a second family to St. Jude. Thomas, who once found himself literally without a dollar to his name, would go on to become one of the first owners of the Miami Dolphins NFL team. “St. Jude has been intertwined with football for years. Danny Thomas was actually one of the original owners of the Miami Dolphins, so we have always had a history with football,” St. Jude’s chief marketing officer, Emily Callahan, said.
For the last 10 years, St. Jude has built upon its NFL relationship by hosting the Legends for Charity event. Hosted at the NFL Headquarters Hotel in the city where the Super Bowl is played, the event brings together some of the biggest names in sports broadcasting to celebrate the work of St. Jude and award the Pat Summerall Award for an individual’s significant contributions to the sports world.
This year, Fox Sports’ lead play-by-play announcer, Joe Buck, was honored by St. Jude with the Pat Summerall Award. “If you think about the people who have received this award, they are the biggest names in sports and sports broadcasting. They’re people who have had incredible careers that have spanned multiple sports. They’re also people who have good character. So many of them have a deep passion for kids and the kids of St. Jude,” Callahan remarked.
Although the Legends for Charity event is hosted outside of St. Jude’s partnership with the NFL, St. Jude is grateful for the opportunities the NFL partnership brings its patients. The NFL serves as the “Official Champion of Play” at St. Jude. Through its NFL PLAY 60 initiative, the NFL supports St. Jude’s Child Life program, which provides St. Jude’s patients with therapeutic play and other activities. “St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is very lucky to have a partnership with the NFL and its PLAY 60 initiative. The NFL brand is one of the most powerful brands in the world. It’s incredibly meaningful to associate St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with the NFL brand,” Callahan said.
For the children of St. Jude fighting life-threatening illnesses, the opportunity to play not only presents the chance to be a kid again, but a chance at living. “So many of our kids, when you talk to them, often all they want to do is get well and go back to playing the sports they love. Every day, I see stories about the power of sport, play and activity in helping a child feel vibrant and alive,” Callahan noted.
Callahan and St. Jude have countless stories of the ways in which St. Jude patients have been impacted positively by the ability to play sports. For many, the thought of taking the field again is a driving force in their recovery. “When I think about our partnership with NFL PLAY 60, I think about Shon Coleman. Shon went to play at Auburn and was one of the most talented kids there. Then, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. To get Shon well and back on the field to be part of the incredible season Auburn had was incredible. So many of our kids have been impacted by the NFL PLAY 60 partnership,” Callahan said.
When St. Jude opened in 1962, the survival rate for childhood cancer patients was a mere 20 percent. Today, thanks in large part to the efforts of St. Jude, that number is an impressive 80 percent. Yet, as the doctors, patients and supporters of St. Jude know, the fight against childhood cancer will not end until the survival rate is 100 percent. Until then, St. Jude and the Legends for Charity event will continue championing the cause of ending childhood cancer over Super Bowl weekend.