By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
4:16 PM EDT, March 16, 2014
After agreeing to terms on a two-year deal with the New York Giants last Thursday, Jameel McClain went to his Facebook page to say goodbye to the only NFL organization that he had ever known.
He thanked Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh. He saluted his former teammates, and then he paid homage to Ravens fans, vowing to remain active in the Baltimore community and to "continue my commitment to change and to improve the lives of others."
"This community is a part of me and what I became as a man and as a player," McClain said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun last week. "My [community] events will last longer than my professional football career. I don't have a problem coming back to give back. That's who I am, and that's who I continue to be. I love Baltimore, and that's going to be my home for a long time."
On Monday night, McClain, who was released by the Ravens last month after playing six seasons for the team, will be honored along with 31 other players at the Ed Block Courage Awards Gala at Martin's West. McClain and the other award recipients were selected by their teammates for overcoming adversity and for embodying a commitment to the community and to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.
The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, named after the longtime head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts who was known for his humanitarianism, raises awareness and promotes the prevention of child abuse.
"I was very aware of the history. Ed Block has been a part of the Baltimore culture for a while. I'm definitely aware of everything that it represents," said the 28-year-old McClain. "It's actually one of those awards when I first came in and heard about it, I said: 'That's an award I'd like to get.' To me, it presents the person I am and the player I am."
After enduring a rough childhood in Philadelphia during which he was homeless at times, McClain entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and worked his way into a starting inside linebacker position next to Ray Lewis. His career was in jeopardy when he suffered a spinal cord contusion late in the 2012 season, but he returned this past year and started 10 games for the Ravens.
Other recipients, like Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, overcame significant knee injuries to return to the field. Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly, selected as the Green Bay Packers' Ed Block award winner, was back in the NFL in 2013 after a three-year hiatus during which he battled drug abuse and served prison time and a league suspension.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis Colts defensive end Cory Redding, who played two seasons with the Ravens, was recognized for his leadership and tireless work in the community.
"Cory was an instrumental guy at a key point in my career," said McClain, who was teammates with Redding in 2010 and 2011. "He's a very sharp guy. When he left the organization, it was a very sad day for a lot of players. He fought through a lot of injuries, and he's as tough as they come. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing C-Red. I'm looking forward for the whole Ed Block experience. It's not just accepting that award."
While Monday's gala caps off the event, many of the recipients arrived in the Baltimore area over the past couple of days. This morning, players visited the Baltimore Ravens Courage House at St. Vincent's Villa in Timonium to spend time with kids. On Monday, they'll do the same at the Chick Webb Recreation Center in Baltimore.
"It's not the main topic on [ESPN's] SportsCenter. You're not going to see it on the front page of the newspaper. The things that I do that are not seen that impact lives are going to be recognized on Monday. That puts the biggest smile on my face," Redding said. "It's truly special. It's pretty cool just to receive any kind of award, but then to break it down and realize who Ed Block was as a person and the things that he started, and what it really means, it's a community award. I'm very humbled."
Redding, an 11-year NFL veteran, said that he still speaks to many of his former teammates, including Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. He's also looking forward to catching up with McClain.
"I love his story so much more just because of where he came from — being homeless and all that," Redding said. "He really struggled to get everything that he's gotten in his life. Nothing was given to him. It's real good to see how he bounced back from that real scary injury."
Getting released by the Ravens after he reworked his contract the previous year was just one more hurdle that McClain had to overcome. He said last week that he learned long ago that the NFL is a business and he held no hard feelings for the Ravens.
He appreciated every opportunity that the franchise gave him, all the big games that he played in and all the relationships that he made on and off the field. And being back in Baltimore gives him one more chance to reminisce.
"I remember everything," he said. "I remember every opportunity I had in the organization, every opportunity I had to meet amazing people throughout the city of Baltimore. I've been blessed on this journey and I'll continue to strive to be better. Baltimore is still a home to me."
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