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Social Impact Heroes: “Hunger and hard work are accelerants to achieve our dreams” with former NFL linebacker O.J. Brigance

Over the past 12 years, the Brigance Brigade Foundation has been able to create significant awareness and help many people. If I started a movement, it would revolve around what insurance companies cover for those battling ALS! The unfortunate side of this horrific disease is the cost to continue living with the disease. It eventually […]


Over the past 12 years, the Brigance Brigade Foundation has been able to create significant awareness and help many people. If I started a movement, it would revolve around what insurance companies cover for those battling ALS! The unfortunate side of this horrific disease is the cost to continue living with the disease. It eventually robs us of the ability to breathe independently requiring someone to be there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In-home nursing care isn’t covered by insurance. If you’re fortunate to have family and friends there to support you, there is an extreme toll that around the clock care takes on Caregivers. With the household reduced to one income, how can a spouse work and care for their loved one? It’s a tough assignment, but love helps us to press forward.


I had the pleasure of interviewing O.J. Brigance, a former NFL and CFL player who has been battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) since 2007 while still working as a Senior Advisor to Player Engagement for the Baltimore Ravens. After experiencing the emotional, physical and financial resources it takes to simply live each day with ALS, O.J. and his wife, Chanda, created the Brigance Brigade Foundation to equip, encourage and empower people living with ALS.


Thank you so much for joining us O.J.! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

After a twelve-year professional football career, I realized that it was time to make my transition from the game. I contemplated the various options available to me at the time and my mind kept coming back to the game I had played since the age of 8. I thought it was coaching football. I called Coach Billick, who was the Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens at the time. I expressed my desire to join the coaching ranks. He heard me out then went on to let me know that he didn’t have any positions on the coaching staff, but they had a position becoming available in Player Development. I investigated what the job would entail and soon discovered the role would be a great fit. During my college days, I was a career development advisor helping students with resume preparation and internship placement. I have always enjoyed helping others succeed in life. The role with the Ravens would involve many similar aspects. The position included helping the players’ transition into the NFL, make the most of their respective careers, and then transition out of football into life utilizing the many skills learned during their professional football careers. It’s one of the most fulfilling roles I have had during my career.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

After five years in the Canadian Football League, I finally received a tryout for a few NFL teams. The tryouts didn’t go well so I just thought it might not be my time. One day while at home, Chanda and I were discussing our next move. She made the point that she couldn’t understand how if someone had a dream, how they wouldn’t do everything in their power to make it happen. She thought that I should be cold calling the teams for another opportunity. This didn’t sit well with me because I had an agent for that. Her point was that sometimes in life, no one can sell you like you! The real truth was the idea of cold calling teams was outside of my comfort zone. When I finally relented from being stubborn, I started calling all 30 teams at the time in alphabetical order. With each call my confidence grew, but rejection continued to come. 28 calls and 28 no’s! I had not called the last two teams because they had met with me previously. Then I said, might as well make it 30 for 30 sarcastically. Turns out that both teams were interested! I ended up signing with the Miami Dolphins and finally realized my dream of playing in the NFL. The two takeaways are that we must step out of our comfort zone to realize our dreams and no matter how many no’s we receive, we only need one yes to catapult us towards destiny.

What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Be diligent and faithful in all that you do. How you handle small assignments is an indicator of how you will handle the larger ones. Hard work and the discipline to sacrifice now for what you want later will always yield dividends.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a time

My parents had the most profound impact on my life. They displayed what hard work and persistence meant. They instilled integrity in me from an early age. I remember when I was about six or seven, my dad took me to the corner store with him. He made his purchase and we were in the car on the way back home when I reached in my pocket and pulled out a piece of candy. My dad saw the candy and stopped the car realizing I had stolen it. He persistently inquired about where I had gotten the candy though he knew. We had our own come to Jesus meeting and headed back to the store to return candy and apologize for stealing.

They taught me that once you start something that you have to honor your word and finish it. This is probably the most important life lesson I have in my life skills toolbox! It has helped me more times than I can count. From playing football to battling ALS.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

Back in 2007, I was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease as it’s more commonly known. ALS is a motor neuron disease that over time takes away all voluntary muscle movement, eventually leaving the recipient paralyzed. After we were able to process our own diagnosis, Chanda and I immediately thought of how could we help others walking this same journey. Early on, we discovered the significant cost associated with living with ALS. This was the impetus for founding the Brigance Brigade in 2008 to equip, encourage and empower those living with ALS. We provide financial assistance with medical equipment, nursing care, and other needs.

What methods are you using to most effectively share your cause with the world?

We are using every method available to share our mission with the world. Social media, radio, television and print media. There’s also good, old fashioned word of mouth through the families we have been blessed to help.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

While playing racquetball over the course of a few weeks in 2007, I began to notice increasing weakness in my right arm when swinging the racquet. I spoke with the team doctors and thought it might be something structural. We got X-rays done and everything was structurally fine. While conducting a physical, we did blood work as well. During my physical, he noticed my chest muscles twitching continually, which I would later discover are called fasciculation’s, a precursor to the muscles starting to break down or atrophy. We got the results back and it showed unusually high levels of glutamine in my bloodstream. Dr. Tucker, one of the Ravens team doctors told me this could mean one of two things. I had either contracted Lyme’s disease or something called ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dr. Tucker explained that Lyme’s could come from a tick bite, but wasn’t as forthcoming about what ALS was. Whatever it was, there was no doubt in my mind that it was merely a temporary condition that I would overcome just as I had overcome every other adversary that I had faced in my life. I shared the news with Chanda and she didn’t bat an eye about it because she had always witnessed God’s power in our lives. There was a natural concern that any spouse would have. I continued to do strengthening exercises, but nothing seemed to help. This was a much different beast than any of my prior injuries. I finally got on the internet to investigate what exactly was ALS?

As I read through the various websites, the following symptoms kept appearing, muscle weakness and twitching, called fasciculations. Muscle cramping was another symptom. When I noticed the weakness in my right arm, I also experienced chronic cramping in my right rhomboid area and my feet. I worked with massage therapists to loosen the muscles, but the cramps would eventually return. I enjoyed working out and always took pride in looking like I could still play even though those days were long gone. It was about continuing to challenge myself physically. I went from using 120-pound dumbbells to bench press down to struggling to press 10 pounds. This was crazy to me. The biggest shocker from my research was that ALS was a fatal disease with a 2 to 5-year life prognosis from the onset! Hold the phone, I didn’t drink alcohol or smoke. I exercised and ate right. Even though I was experiencing many of the ALS symptoms, I still held out hope that this was not that! However, as the saying goes, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it probably is a duck! I had seen God deliver me so many times throughout my life, I just knew in the deepest recesses of my heart, that He would save me from this also!

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

The BBF has supported more than 150 families in 2018 in a variety of ways. We have provided in-home nursing care for many of our families. We have built ramps so that a PAL (Person living with ALS) could enjoy getting out of the house. We have paid for durable medical equipment purchase and rentals to ensure that they have the best quality of life possible.

What are your 3 things I wish someone told me when I first started and why?

Life’s limitations aren’t dependent on the opinions of others, but on what you choose to dream possible. As I shared earlier, many people told me why I wouldn’t make it to the NFL. I chose to show people why I would, one opportunity at a time. If you gave me the opportunity, I was going to get the job.

Hunger and hard work are accelerants to achieve our dreams. I wasn’t always the most talented person in the room, however, I knew that if I was willing to endure the pain of sacrifice, I would have the opportunity to be successful.

Seasons of life are cyclical just like the seasons of nature. The Bible talks about there being a time and season for everything in life in the book of Ecclesiastes. As much as we might desire a certain outcome at a certain time in life, we might not be fully matured to handle the challenge. The seasons of Life prepare us to fully embrace our opportunities when the time is right.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Over the past 12 years, the Brigance Brigade Foundation has been able to create significant awareness and help many people. If I started a movement, it would revolve around what insurance companies cover for those battling ALS! The unfortunate side of this horrific disease is the cost to continue living with the disease. It eventually robs us of the ability to breathe independently requiring someone to be there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In-home nursing care isn’t covered by insurance. If you’re fortunate to have family and friends there to support you, there is an extreme toll that around the clock care takes on Caregivers. With the household reduced to one income, how can a spouse work and care for their loved one? It’s a tough assignment, but love helps us to press forward.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands during times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands during times of challenge and controversy by Martin Luther King Jr. It’s easier to display class and character when things are going well, but what type of example are we setting when life challenges us to our limits? I would dare say this is when we display our greatest strength.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Tyler Perry because he is the picture of resiliency. He took his adversity in life and allowed it to prepare him for his destiny. The ability to still see and believe when life’s circumstances are completely different from what your dreams have shown you is a gift from God. He has a philanthropic heart to bless others because he’s been blessed.

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