Better late than never: Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown greeted warmly by sick kids at Children's Hospital
Antonio Brown visited about 50 children at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to celebrate Friday's release of the latest Madden football video game featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver on its cover.
Brown took photos, signed autographs and offered words of encouragement to patients ranging from toddlers to early teens, including some in wheelchairs recovering from broken limbs and recent surgeries, and others who were bedridden and rolled in on stretchers.
Brown then played video games on a sofa alongside several patients at the hospital's Eat 'n Park Atrium before making a round upstairs to say hello to a couple dozen more patients too ill to leave their rooms.
"That was pretty cool of him. That was nice," said Grace Thurner, 14, who has a bandaged head and jaw from her procedure involving tissue expanders to help with a skin condition.
Grace hopes to head back to her North Washington home Saturday with her mom, Kate Thurner, who said she was elated by Brown's roughly 90-minute visit -- even though hours earlier, they began to think he wouldn't show.
Fliers put out earlier in the day in the hospital had told patients Brown would be available to meet patients and play video games as part of a launch event for the "Madden NFL 19" game that hit stores Friday.
The event was scheduled to start at 1 p.m.
Brown arrived more than four hours later, shortly after 5 p.m., after some patients had given up on waiting. One boy was wheeled in on a bed three times while some parents and grandparents with children not staying overnight decided to leave.
Brown would not say what caused the delay other than "a lot of stuff."
A Steelers spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
"It was a little bit of a damper at first, but all of the kids were so excited to see him and we hung out and played Madden and had a video playing and had pizza from Pizza Hut," said Mark Mares, child life specialist at the hospital.
Once he arrived, Brown made time to speak with each child individually, along with many of their family members.
He signed photos and memorabilia and took selfies. He also talked to several of their relatives and friends via Facetime.
"Nice smile!" Brown told one young girl after crouching down to take a photo at her level.
"Did you enjoy the pizza?" Brown asked another patient hooked to an IV machine.
Most of the patients who met Brown had conditions related to cancer, trauma and various forms of inpatient as well as outpatient care, Mares said.
"We felt really honored that he came and launched the game here with our kids. ... It was really nice to everybody so happy in some situations that aren't so great.
"And this is an international game, so to have (its launch) here in Pittsburgh at Children's Hospital is very special."
Brown, who also volunteers with youth football and children's programs in Pennsylvania as well as Florida and Texas, said he considers giving back part of his role as an NFL player and is essential to his legacy as a person.
"That's the real legacy, is how you make people feel," Brown said. "Nobody will remember the football plays -- some people may -- but a couple years from now, when I'm done playing, that's what it's all about -- how do you affect the kids, how do you affect the next generation and what do you do to give back."
Brown's message for children, or anyone, really, going through difficult situations and challenges: "Always keep a positive attitude. Your attitude is everything. No more matter what you're going through, if you keep a good attitude, you can overcome it, and that's kind of the rules I live by as an athlete, and the same principles I try to inspire with my kids.
"No matter what happens in life, it's all about how you take it with your attitude, and if you just think positive, your life will be positive."
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.