Over the last several years, the University of Virginia community has become well-versed on the many ways former Cavalier football star Chris Long is striving to make the world a better place.
On Tuesday night, his efforts were acknowledged on a larger scale when ESPN named Long the winner of its Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award.
Named in honor of the late boxing icon, the award is “given to the athlete whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a measured positive impact on their community through sports.”
“Muhammed Ali’s most important and impactful fights were not with his fists,” Long said in his acceptance speech. “His fights were with his conviction, his bravery and his voice. Everybody in this room has a voice. … I’ll never have Muhammad Ali’s legacy and I won’t have his reach, but I still have a voice and I’ll use it.
“I would encourage anybody watching at home … just use your voice, step up, stand up for something. Be authentic. Get behind something you believe in.”
Long, who announced his retirement from the NFL in May, donated his entire 2017 salary to benefit educational equality, and encouraged fans to join the effort. His “Pledge 10 for Tomorrow” drive raised $1.75 million to support the three cities in which he spent his professional playing career: St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia.
Long’s “First Quarter for Literacy” program has donated 75,000 new books to children in underserved neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, Long’s “Waterboys” initiative has helped more than 225,000 people in East Africa gain access to clean drinking water by building more than 60 wells to date. Long’s ability to inspire has rallied 26 players from more than 20 different teams to participate in his causes. Recently, the program – with the help of former UVA basketball players Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris and Justin Anderson – expanded into the NBA with an endeavor dubbed “Hoops20.”
Long’s philanthropy has included his hometown.
After August 2017’s violent “Unite the Right” white supremacist on Grounds and in Charlottesville, Long and his wife, fellow Wahoo Megan O’Malley, announced that Long would donate his first six NFL paychecks to fund scholarships for students from the Boys & Girls Club of Central Virginia to attend his high school alma mater, St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville.
In 2018, Long gave the address at Valedictory Exercises at John Paul Jones Arena. “This university encouraged me to be a complete human being, not just what I do for a living,” Long said in his remarks.
Over Super Bowl weekend in February, Long was named the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Considered one of the league’s most prestigious honors, the award – named after the late Chicago Bears running back – recognizes a player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field.
The other nominees for ESPN’s Humanitarian award were tennis player Sloane Stephens, NBA player Reggie Bullock and MLB player Yadier Molina.
“Any athlete who is fighting for good and fighting for a cause is on my team, and I’m on their team,” Long said Tuesday. “We’re teammates and we accept this together.”
ESPN granted more than $1 million to honoree and awardees’ selected charities. Tuesday’s event benefitted the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund at the V Foundation.
Highlights from the event will be shown during a one-hour ESPN program on July 18.