Jerome Bettis honored former teammate Hines Ward with the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year Award and former Steelers' running back Merril Hoge with the first ever Courage Award at the 11th Annual Caring for Kids Dinner benefitting Bettis' "Bus Stops Here" Foundation at the Fairmont Pittsburgh.
Ward, who recently joined CNN as co-host of "Morning Express" with Robin Meade, has been actively involved in the community for years, including programs he developed such as Hines Ward Positive Athlete Program and Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation, as well as numerous organizations and foundations he has lent and continues to lend his time to.
Jerome Bettis honored Hines Ward and Merril Hoge at his annual Bus Stops Here Foundation event.
"It means a great deal to be honored by Jerome. He has been a mentor of mine for so many years," said Ward. "He was one of those veteran guys who extended his hand out to me to show me what it takes to be a professional athlete. He has impacted so many guys and given them the blueprint of what it means to be a professional athlete, not just on the field but what you mean to the community off the field. It helps me having a guy like that in my corner.
"Being in the pros is not just about catching touchdowns, and giving devastating blocks. I got just as much enjoyment about helping others as I did putting on the uniform. And I still do after being retired. I get excited when I am doing community work. You see the smiles on the faces, the reaction, words can't describe that. People asked what it was like running out of the tunnel at Heinz Field. For me the best feeling is seeing the expression on the people's faces when I do charity work. That is what it's all about. I am always going to be active in the community in Atlanta and Pittsburgh, a city that has given me so much. I always want to impact the City of Pittsburgh."
Hoge, who played for the Steelers from 1987-93, has shown his courage more often than not both during his career, but even more after. Hoge successfully battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2003, and then had successful open heart surgery in 2015. Hoge wrote a motivational book, 'Find A Way,' after his successful battle with cancer, highlighting the importance of staying positive in the face of adversity.
"When I try to define courage, I think what is courage," said Hoge. "I guess I look at it as life is a team game. There are analogies in sports in all of life lessons. Some people view what I have been through as inspirational and if that helps them, it's moving. So many people have done things that have helped me. Chuck Noll was one of the most inspirational men I met in my life. The things he did for me and taught me, helped me be a better person. If you can do things that people can grab strength from that, then that is awesome because I have used others to garner strength through difficult times.
"I guess everything that I have experienced, the way I approached it, helped me not get caught up in the things I can't control. I have always lived by the find a way approach. I have stayed focused on living life and fulfilling my goals.
"To be honored by Jerome means something to me. It's pretty humbling. No matter era you played in, especially with the Steelers, you didn't have to be teammates to be connected. I was a fan of Jerome's when I saw him in college at Notre Dame. I am a fan of how he played. When he came to the Steelers he was a perfect fit for the team and the city. Then we got to work together. Just the person he is, it's special."
The Jerome Bettis "Bus Stops Here" Foundation is dedicated to improving the overall quality of life for troubled and underprivileged inner-city youth. They accomplish this by providing financial resources, educational, mentoring, and recreational programs that will assist youth in learning to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy choices. For more information about The Jerome Bettis Bus Stops Here Foundation please visit http://thebusstopsherefoundation.com.