His courage is beyond compare

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It's an award that has traditionally gone to a player who has fought back from a season-ending injury to work their way back onto the field the following season. It honors their grit, determination and drive to overcome the physical pain that came their way on the football field.

This year, though, it's a little bit different.

William Gay was voted by his teammates the 2015 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, an award he will receive at the 23rd Annual Art Rooney Courage House Luncheon on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at Heinz Field.

But unlike in the past, Gay winning the award has nothing to do with football, nothing to do with an injury, nothing to do with physical pain.

For Gay, his battle was an emotional one, with pain that was unimaginable, but the strength and courage he showed beyond compare.


Gay's life was turned upside down at an age when life is supposed to be about playing sports and video games and eating junk food. In short, being a kid. He was 8 years old, and he was living in a rather traditional American home, with his mother, Carolyn Hall, his stepfather Vernon Bryant, and stepbrothers Unrikay Hall, 17, and Verterris Bryant, 4. Through William Gay's 8-year-old eyes, everything was normal.

What he didn't know was that things were far from perfect at home. His mother and stepfather were having problems, and they were problems serious enough to have Carolyn interested in pursuing some type of separation.

One day, Carolyn dropped off Unrikay, William and Verterris at her mother's home. While Corine Hall was watching the boys for her daughter, Carolyn then went to visit a friend. William ran off to play, watch television and just hang out.

In the meantime, Vernon Bryant had been following Carolyn, and when she arrived at her friend's house, husband and wife got into an argument, one that escalated to the degree that Vernon pulled a gun and shot Carolyn Hall three times. With that, 8-year-old William Gay was left without a mother, and when Vernon Bryant subsequently took his own life to complete this tragic murder-suicide, he was left without a home.

For a young boy who thought life was perfect, he instantly was introduced to the horror of domestic violence.

"It was tough, losing two people who care for you as a young kid," recalled Gay. "I didn't know how to take it. As a young kid, you think your parents are supposed to live forever.

"I was mad, angry inside. Then we found out he did it, and I hated him. That was the dude I knew. He was like my father. That's who we stayed with. I thought we were a one big family. All of the hatred in me went towards him and it was a terrible thing for me."


Gay kept the pain, the anger, bottled up inside him for years. He first talked about it a little over five years ago, but it wasn't something he shared often. Until a little over a year ago, when domestic violence came to the forefront in the NFL with several players facing allegations. He knew he had to speak out.

He put aside his personal pain and suffering to share his story with others in an effort to help victims, to make them understand there is help, there is hope. He became a name, a face, a voice for victims of domestic violence, someone willing to fight for them.  

"It helped me grow as a man and helped me touch other people's lives," said Gay. "I realized that it became easier opening up old wounds. It helped me, but in turn it helped a lot of others by hearing about a child who went through it, a child whose mother passed away because of domestic violence. It helped me as a man and it helped shed light on it and help others get through the situation."

It wasn't until he talked about it that many of his teammates even knew what he had been through. And they admired his strength and courage so much, there was nobody in their eyes more deserving of the award.

For Gay, though, he doesn't look at it that way. It's not about him at all.

"I just think it's all a part of the plan of getting awareness out," said Gay. "My teammates are recognizing the cause I am fighting for. Now the cause is getting recognition. I am glad I am able to tell my mother's story and let her story help others.

"Winning accolades and awards, this is a great award to win, but it's the awareness part. Now people will wonder why I won the award and they will hear the story if they never heard it before. Women can see me accept this award on their behalf, on my mom's behalf. It's about those who have been through it and my mom's story I am telling.

"It's not me at all. I am the person they pushed in the forefront, but it goes out to the many survivors, the victims, and of course my mother." 

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