LSU and Foundation56 Hold Second Annual Etta James Memorial Meet
by Elizabeth Stuart
LSU Sports Information
Breast cancer is a disease many families are already too familiar with. According to the American Cancer Society, 2.4 million women have been diagnosed with and treated for the disease. More than just a figure, each one of the 2.4 million women represents an individual story – the story of a woman in a fight for her life. It is a story of grandmothers, mothers and children as well as a story of fathers and sons. Breast cancer not only affects a woman herself but every member of her family. That is a story that former LSU linebacker and Dallas Cowboy Bradie James knows all too well.
In 2000, doctors diagnosed Bradie’s mother Etta with breast cancer. The family was close knit, with Etta taking constant care of her family, especially her husband who was undergoing kidney dialysis. Even in the face of adversity, Etta kept the severity of the prognosis from Bradie in order to better take care of her family, putting others over herself.
Despite a hard fought battle, Bradie’s mother Etta passed away in 2002 soon after her husband died of kidney failure.
Although Etta James may be gone, her memory is not forgotten. It lives on through her family members and especially her son. In October 2007, Bradie’s mother was the inspiration for the young football star to create Foundation56, an organization dedicated to giving back to the community through the James Gang, a youth leadership program, and Soul Survivors, a program promoting breast cancer awareness.
“I always wanted to do something I was passionate about and it does my heart good to have a part in saving lives,” James said. “I feel like this is part of my purpose in life.”
Foundation56 partnered with LSU gymnastics in early 2008 to host the inaugural Etta James Memorial Meet. A record crowd of 7,717 gathered in the PMAC not only to watch the gymnastics team, but to support James’ foundation and its fight against breast cancer. The enthusiastic crowd along with several donors and sponsors raised $30,950 for women throughout the Baton Rouge community.
“The best part of the meet was seeing my aunt Jenette emotional about the fact that her sister Etta was still being remembered by so many people, my LSU family,” James said. “It was simply amazing.”
The hundreds of Foundation56 shirts that appear on the LSU campus bear witness to an LSU community that united in a fight against breast cancer at the inaugural meet on Feb. 22, 2008. More than representing the LSU community, the shirts also represent an entire NFL team that rallied around the cause. The Dallas Cowboys football team entirely funded the shirts given out at the meet in support of their teammate’s organization.
“For an NFL team to rally around an event that we are doing here, it gives credence that it is not just Bradie in Dallas, but his family, his football team, that supports him in the effort as well,” said LSU gymnastics head coach D-D Breaux.
The money that the shirts helped raise as well as all other contributions funded a mobile unit to go into underserviced communities and screen women for breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, patients with Medicaid or without insurance are more likely to be diagnosed with a more progressed stage of the disease, provoking the thought that if women in these communities had better access to health care and more opportunities for screenings, more lives could be saved with early detection.
James kept this in mind with his foundation, going beyond just providing a mobile unit by also providing breast cancer patients with gas cards to help them when traveling for treatment.
“The mobile unit we bought last year will go into our 10-parish area,” Breaux said. “It directly touches our people with what we are trying to do.”
As Foundation56 has grown over the past year, James’ passion for helping save lives has grown along with it. This year’s Second Annual Etta James Memorial Meet hopes to raise $50,000 and in doing so help save the lives of more women in the local community.
To help the organization reach new heights Foundation56 expanded its efforts to a two-night event. Prior to the gymnastics meet on Saturday night, James will help host a silent auction Friday at 7 p.m. in the Stadium Club inside Tiger Stadium.
Football jerseys and a trip to Hawaii are two of the many items up for bid, and money raised at the auctions will benefit Foundation56.
“We wanted the silent auction and tailgate atmosphere to take us to the next level,” Breaux explained.
As LSU takes on North Carolina State at 6 p.m. Saturday, each fan will have a chance to impact lives.
LSU fans along with the Baton Rouge community will once again have the chance to form a united front in the face of adversity, in the face of a disease which is unnecessarily claiming lives. When fans fill the seats of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center as the LSU gymnastics team takes the floor, they are filling an entire arena with hope – a hope for women and their families that are in a fight against breast cancer. Every individual that night will represent a beacon of hope that, when united, gives a shining light to an entire community that this is a fight we can win.