2008's Washingtonians of the Year: Shawn Springs

By: Leslie Milk, Ellen Ryan

For Redskin Shawn Springs, finding a cure for diabetes is a personal crusade.

He’s more than a spokesman for the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He’s in the trenches pushing for funds for small research companies doing the work that may lead to a breakthrough.

That puts Springs into situations where he’s surrounded by scientists. “We need a football translation,” he told one such group. “You have to explain: This is the offense, this is the defense, this is how we’re going to stop it.”

So far, both the offense and the defense are falling down on the job. Fifty percent of African-Americans born after 2002 will develop type 2 diabetes, he says. Too many inner-city kids live in what Springs calls “food deserts” close to a liquor store, a church, and a fast-food outlet but far from grocery stores offering healthy food.

Springs knows too well how deadly diabetes can be. His dad, former Dallas Cowboys running back Ron Springs, was diagnosed it at age 36. But for years his dad lived in denial, Shawn says. As a result, he developed serious complications and has been in a coma for a year.

Spring walks the walk—he led the Northern Virginia JDRF walk in 2006—and talks the talk, both on Capitol Hill and in area classrooms. He’s found unique ways to raise funds for diabetes research: Shawn Springs corn chowder was on the menu at DC’s popular Oceanaire restaurant in November, and proceeds went to support research. Springs also is on the board of Junior Achievement and cochaired JA’s Bowl-a-Thon for two years.

Reaching out to kids gives Springs a chance to spread his other main message—that few of them should plan on playing pro ball but lots of other jobs exist in sports. “When I tell them that my agent makes more money than me, that’s when they get excited,” Springs says.

Ron and Shawn Springs worked together on a diabetes-awareness campaign. Now Shawn is out there alone—but every speech he gives is a tribute to his father and lessons learned about football and life.

See all of the 2008 Washingtonians of the Year