As a band played during his New Orleans-themed 45th birthday party Saturday night at Pimlico Race Course, Ravens senior advisor of player development O.J. Brigance smiled as he enjoyed the festivities.
Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerocis in 2007, the retired former Ravens linebacker is upbeat about the success of the popular Ice Bucket Challenge and the money and awareness it's raising for ALS research. ALS is a degenerative motor neuron disease also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. There is no known cure.
Brigance, who has taken the Ice Bucket Challenge along with his wife, Chanda, was joined at his birthday party by former Ravens safety Ed Reed, kicker Matt Stover, defensive end Michael McCrary, offensive tackle Harry Swayne, who's the Ravens' director of player development, Ravens long snapper Morgan Cox and former Baltimore Colts running back Tom Matte.
Brigance spoke with The Baltimore Sun about several topics, including his fight with ALS, the Ravens' outlook this season after splitting their first two games and former Ravens running back Ray Rice, whose $35 million contract was terminated Monday with the NFL indefinitely suspending him after a graphic video surfaced of his domestic violence incident.
What are your thoughts on the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and how has fundraising gone for the Brigance Brigade Foundation?
Brigance: "I was simply surprised at how a simple act went viral. Then, it became a worldwide phenomenon. The entire ALS community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude. Never in the history of the struggle against ALS has there been such exposure and revenue generated. The Brigance Brigade has benefited greatly from the Ice Bucket Challenge. We have received close to a quarter of a million dollars to help us continue our mission of equipping, encouraging and empowering those living with ALS.
"We very much hope for a cure in the near future, but until then, we want to give families battling ALS the best quality of life they can have here and now. If you would like to contribute to the Brigance Brigade, please visit www.brigancebrigade.org. Every gift, no matter how large or small, helps."
What keeps you going strong and so positive? Where do you find your strength?
Brigance: "What keeps me going every day despite my diagnosis is the mere fact that if God has allowed me to live and wake up and experience another day, he has a work for me to do, whether it's working with the Brigance Brigade or encouraging the mighty men of the Baltimore Ravens. Destiny and purpose propel me forward."
Brigance: "I think this year's team has all the capabilities to make another playoff run. Our players are a year older and wiser. We have added to our team, through the draft and free agency, players who are paying dividends like C.J. Mosley, Justin Forsett, Owen Daniels and Jeremy Zuttah. We have the talent and our trials will make us stronger as the year progresses."
During a tough week for the Ravens off the field, what have you told the players as far as maintaining their focus and perspective?
Brigance: "I really haven't talked to players about what has happened. Coach [John] Harbaugh has done a marvelous job of addressing the issue and made sure the team remained focused."
What is your reaction to what happened with Rice? What message, if any, do you deliver to the players about domestic violence?
Brigance: "This is a tough time for the Ravens and the NFL. My hope is that Ray and Janay can continue to solidify their relationship and emerge from this life trial even stronger than before. As for the team, we are taking some steps to make things right. This incident has shined a light on domestic violence and the partnership the team has formed with the House of Ruth will hopefully help other victims in the future and raise awareness about this very important issue.
"Yes, there will be positives to come from this terrible situation. One positive that has already occurred is the nation is engaged in a dialogue that will hopefully deter or end domestic violence."