Steelers President Art Rooney II and his wife Greta were honored by the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS), receiving their 2013 Achievement Award at the annual Vegas on the Mon event at the LeMont Restaurant on Thursday evening.
"As we sat back and looked at people that continue to contribute and be there for us and never say no, you think about over the years what the Steelers have done," said Tina Massari, executive director of the Leukemia Lymphoma Society of Western Pennsylvania. "When there is an event or something going on, the Steelers are always generous not just to us but to all of the charities in the city. They are always willing to support in any way they can."
The Steelers organization has made community involvement a priority, continuing the tradition of giving back set years ago by Steelers' founder Art Rooney Sr.
"Down through the years starting with the example set by my grandfather, our organization has tried to be there for the community in as many ways as possible," said Art Rooney II. "We try to be there as much as we can. There is a lot of great work being done in this community in a number of fronts, in the medical fields, and we have tried to be supportive in various ways. The people trying to work hard defeat leukemia, we have seen first-hand people in the Steelers family afflicted with the disease. If we can be helpful at all in that effort it's something we want to be a part of."
The Steelers and LLS have a long relationship of working together, dating back to when former cornerback Rod Woodson hosted Steelers Spirit Days for LLS and also attended assemblies and "hopped for leukemia" with kindergarten students to help raise funds for the charity.
When former Steelers running back Merril Hoge was diagnosed with stage two non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the Steelers gave him their support and Hoge also supported LLS and their battle to bring awareness to the disease.
"We try to be support not only of our players, but people in the community that are suffering with this disease as well as others," said Rooney. "The important thing about the award is if we can help raise money to defeat this disease and care for the people that are fighting the disease we are thrilled to be a part of it."
The relationship between the Steelers and LLS grew when former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith learned his young son Elijah had leukemia back in 2008. It was during the heat of the Steelers run to Super Bowl XLIII and Smith, one of the keys on defense, needed time to deal with things. The team gave him all the time and support he needed.
"It was the height of the season and Aaron wasn't at practice," recalled Massari. "At no point in time did they say Aaron you need to be here. Instead they did everything they could to keep it quiet, to respect what Aaron and his family were going through and to give Aaron the time he needed. They told him do what you need to do and worry about your family.
"That is the type of thing when you think who should be honored for the true support they give, and the Rooneys embody that support and theme of being there. It's being there in support of patients and families. They do it for us as a whole and when it hits home they do it in such a big way that we felt it was appropriate to thank them for the support they have given us directly and indirectly."