When Mel Blount heard about linebacker LaMarr Woodley giving back to the students in the Saginaw (Michigan) Public School system by donating $60,000 to ensure they didn't have to pay a fee to play sports, it touched him. The former Steelers' cornerback knows what playing sports meant to him as a kid, and was moved by Woodley's generous gesture.
It was actions such as that donation that made Blount realize Woodley would be the perfect honoree for the Mel Blount Youth Home 15th Annual All-Star Celebrity Roast, which was held Friday night at the Wyndam Grand Downtown.
"He is a great football player and a great person," said Blount. "When I heard what he did for the kids in Saginaw, his hometown, I thought that spoke volumes for LaMarr. We are honored he would allow us to roast and honor him. It's a great way to connect to the younger generation of Steelers and that is important."
Blount, a Hall of Famer and four-time Super Bowl champ, has visited with Woodley on multiple occasions at the team's practice facility, the two quickly forming a bond. Woodley said Blount serves as a great role model for today's players, showing them the importance of giving back.
"It means a lot that he would choose to honor me," said Woodley, who also hosts Thanksgiving giveaways in Pittsburgh and Saginaw, as well as his continued commitment to the Boys & Girls Club. "Mel has been doing a lot in the community for a long time. Seeing guys like him do things in the community inspires you to do more. My community is Pittsburgh and Saginaw. I want to continue to do things in both.
"Giving the money to the school district, I wanted to step up for kids so they didn't have to pay to play. It would have been awful if they didn't have the opportunity to play side by side with friends and be mentored by coaches. There is so much they can learn from team sports. Just because they couldn't pay the amount of money shouldn't prevent them from playing."
While the evening was a roast, iand Woodley definitely felt the "love" from many with jokes during it, it was hard not to focus on Woodley's commitment to the community.
"LaMarr is not only a valued member of our football team, but a very responsible and conscious member of this community," said Coach Mike Tomlin in a taped message. "His service to this community is really untold. He prefers to keep a low profile in that regard. Here is a guy that understands and embraces the responsibility of being him. He's got a passion for young people and he reaches out and encourages and mentors them. He participates in our community in a variety of ways."
Proceeds from the event benefit the Mel Blount Youth Home in Claysville, Pa., run by Blount and his wife TiAnda.
"This is a huge part of our budget," said Blount. "We need these funds to continue to provide services for the kids we work with and take care of the responsibilities of running the program. We are in it every day and my name is on the door, so we want to make sure we provide the best we can."
Plenty of Blount's former teammates were also in attendance, a chance for them to gather together and talk about old times, while getting to know some of the current players as well.
"It really has become a reunion for the older guys, as well as a bridge to the younger players," said Blount. "We are one big family; we are just a different generation. We want the younger generation to understand we love them, support them and understand their journey and we want the best for them."