Meet the Men Behind the Pro Bowl Weekend’s Biggest Charity Event

I was invited to the 17th annual Warren Moon Pro Bowl Reception and spoke to the men who are fighting to end childhood cancer.

The NFL Pro Bowl has been played in Honolulu, Hawaii, 35 times. And while we’ve seen talented athletes leave their mark on the game over that span, there’s a group of like-minded individuals who have done even more to impact our national culture beyond the gridiron.

The Top of Waikiki restaurant stands squarely among the people, culture, and beaches of Hawaii. It’s hard to say that the massive, rotating, Pacific-Rim cuisine joint overlooking the entire city is a natural beauty, but on this night, what’s happening inside makes it the prized jewel within the island formerly ruled over by King Kamehameha.

The restaurant is playing host to the 17th annual Warren Moon Pro Bowl Reception. The event is a collaboration between NFL players (current and former) and benefactors to raise money and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 100% of the event’s proceeds go to the research hospital.

“This is my favorite time of the year, everyone has their eyes on Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, but to me it is all about helping the children,” says Warren Moon, the 9-time Pro Bowler and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback. “I’ve been fortunate to continually grow this event for almost two decades.”

But although the event has been named after him, it’s not Moon who joins these modern-day gladiators together. Rather, in a room full of items priced beyond $25,000 (for the charity auction) and Hall of Fame football players, the collective eye of the group gathered inside the Top of Waikiki gravitates toward CEO of Sports 1 Marketing, David Meltzer. Although he did work for the agency that inspired the movie Jerry Maguire, he is not your typical businessman.

He’s in the relationship-building business.

The lawyer-turned-agent (and Moon’s business partner) makes his mission quite clear: “We do this for three reasons. First, we want to make a lot of money. Second, we want to help a lot of people. And third, we want to have a lot of fun along the way.”

It’s working.

“Back when St. Jude started, 96% of children died of leukemia,” Meltzer says. “Today, it is just the opposite. Less than 4% die of childhood leukemia. I’m proud to be a part of changing that statistic.”

Both Moon and Meltzer have been involved with St. Jude for years. Moon even holds a seat on their board of advisors — a position that helped him grow his cause and this event to the next level.

“It seriously chokes me up when I heard the story of Danny Thomas, who needed a million dollars to start St. Jude Hospital. When he would travel by plane, he would take his hat off, get on the speaker and tell everyone that he wanted to stop childhood cancer.”

As the sun sets on Waikiki and the Pro Bowl reception comes to an end, donors and athletes have contributed a sizable sum to St. Jude’s efforts. I look at Meltzer, who has finally earned a moment to catch his breath. He and Moon are sitting at a table together, laughing and quietly enjoying the moment and appreciating the impact they just made on such an important cause.

I don’t approach them. I have at least a dozen questions I’d like to ask, but I also know what’s coming next for the dynamic duo, and just like before, it’s no easy task.

They’ve turned their attention toward the NFL’s concussion issue now, hoping to give back to the players who have assisted in ending childhood cancers.

The night eventually draws to a close. The Hall of Famers leave and the donors leave and the writers like myself leave. Meltzer and Moon stay, the cogs in their minds spinning in time with the restaurant.

I smile at Meltzer on the way out. He’s made a lot of money tonight. He’s helped a lot of people. But I can tell that, to him, this isn’t the moment for self-congratulation, that moment has passed. There’s still work to be done.