It was at this time last year that Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers coach—and former outside linebacker—Joey Porter was being honored for his charitable work by the Youth Leadership Initiative, which is former Steelers cornerback Mel Blount’s project. Each honoree is also the recipient of a roasting by his peers.
Porter and his wife opened the Jasmine Nyree Day Center in 2009 while he was still an active player in the National Football League. The Center helps children who have special teams, particularly those who are on the autism spectrum.
Jasmine Nyree is the Porters’ second daughter, and she was diagnosed at an early age. You can read more about the Porters’ story and Joey Porter’s honoring during last year’s edition of the Mel Blount Annual All-Star Celebrity Roast in an article that I wrote in 2017.
This year’s honoree was yet another former Steeler, defensive end Brett Keisel. Among the most popular players on the team in his day, he has continued to represent the Steelers well in his retirement, and keeps up appearances in Pittsburgh.
He is best-known today for his annual ‘Shear Da Beard’ event, during which the self-described act is performed in an activity designed to raise money for charity. Keisel has long been associated with his impressive beard, but that’s a small price to pay for his charitable work.
He has been participating in this event for eight years now and it continues to grow in size. Proceeds go to the UPMC Children’s Hospital. He was inspired to donate to this cause when his former teammate and friend, Aaron Smith, experienced the nightmare of having his young son battle leukemia.
“Aaron and I became very close throughout our years here in Pittsburgh”, Keisel said. “Aaron was someone that I looked up too. I was constantly trying to work out like he did, watch tape like he did, practice like he did. Do all of the little things that he was doing and be a pro like him. I was constantly in his ear asking questions and we became close”.
He talked about that moment during the 2008 season when it all unfolded for Smith which his son Elijah’s diagnosis. “You can’t do anything. You want to switch places with them”, he said about his relationship with his teammate at the time. “You want to take the pain. You don’t want to see them in pain. I think he knew he could trust me and so he would talk to me”.
Keisel won two Super Bowls and was a Pro Bowler in his time, but his charitable work today is arguably as important as anything else he has ever done in his life, and is the reason that Blount chose to honor him.
“I was impressed with Brett and what he is doing for Children’s Hospital”, the Hall of Famer said. “One of the things I like to do is look at what guys are doing in the community, and giving back. Brett is a perfect choice. Good man, the things he is doing in the community, the things he stands for”.