Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lou Gehrig Sports Awards Benefit

We had a fundraising dinner on Monday for The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, where I work. Our benefit, the 14th Annual Lou Gehrig Sports Awards Benefit Dinner is a high profile event in Manhattan where we honor some sports celebrities and someone in business or politics. This year we honored Sandy Koufax, John McEnroe and Denis "DJ" Carey, a prominent Irish-American and activist, who has ALS. Carey's uncle is Hugh Carey former NYS Governor. DJ Carey gave a great acceptance speech making some pretty witty jokes about his diagnosis that helped ease the severity and grimness of his recounting of how doctors eliminated other potential possibilities, such as Lyme’s disease.

Sandy Koufax’s honor was unusual because, according to his agent, he never does these types of appearances. His friend, ALS Poet Laureate, Noah benShia, helped convince him to come out that night in support of ALS. BenShia’s father died of the disease in 1990 and Koufax had a friend who also passed from ALS. It was a rare to have met Sandy Koufax in this capacity, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get his autograph. In the VIP room I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Koufax for a few minutes, asked if he needed me to help fend of some unauthorized autograph seekers and even offered to get him a drink. In the end he got the drink himself and he kept signing autographs, almost continually the entire night. As you can imagine someone of Sandy Koufax’s legendary status is much sought after by sports celebrity hounds, especially since he’s a bit of a hermit when it comes to these events.

McEnroe was pretty much like I expected him to be, a little grumpy yet with a pretty good soul and very self-aware about how he comes across. He met some ALS patients at the even, which he said touched him very deeply and put his own persona in perspective. He spontaneously decided to donate a very large sum of money to us and announced the gift at the dinner. I think his wife Patty Smyth (former 80's rocker and front woman of the band, Scandal) had a lot to do with it. Patty and I spoke while I helped arrange the celebs for photos (not an easy task, I might add) and she was a sweetheart. She told me she's "working" on John, meaning trying to tone down his temper. She said he stays in shape by working out for hours everyday, playing tennis and such. Smyth said McEnroe would explode if he didn’t, which I thought she meant that he’d gain weight but she explained that it meant that his intensity is so high he needs a physical outlet for it. Explains a lot about him and imagine if he didn’t have Tennis to direct his energies. We had some laughs and she was totally genuine from as far as I could tell. No I did not geek out and tell her how much I loved Scandal as a kid and make some lame "Goodbye to You" joke when we parted company. (Though I really, really wanted to.) Standing next to her I kept trying to imagine what she looked like in her black gown with the make up from her “Warrior” video on. I amuse myself in this way to help get through the day.

We also honored Chris Chambliss but he couldn’t attend because of a family emergency. His former Yankee teammate, Graig Nettles showed up to accept the honor for him. Among the other celebrities to attend was former Yankee pitcher, Tommy John, who did a fantastic job of running our live auction along with Q104 DJ Ken Dashow, who is a long time and very loyal supporter of our chapter. Former members of many New York teams were on hand including, Dave Herman who played on the Jets, most notably for the 1968 World Championship Team that defeated the Colts to win Superbowl IV. Herman was also gracious enough to come to our Long Island Walk to Defeat ALS this fall, signing autographs to help raise money. Also there was Rod Gilbert, the first NHL New York Ranger to have his number (7) retired, and Howard Cross, who played for the NFL New York Giants and helped them win Superbowl XXV in 1990 against the Buffalo Bills.

Giving out the awards was none other than sports journalist, Bob Costas, honorary Board Member of the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter. Helping to emcee the benefit was author, sports writer and television reporter, Jeremy Schaap, son of award-winning journalist, the late Dick Schaap, a huge supporter of the chapter’s efforts.

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