Jonathan Vilma - The Off The Field Hero You Don't Know

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Much buzz was made Tuesday, as New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma spoke to the media in regards to his return to the practice field on Monday, after being down with a troublesome right knee injury that required surgery at the beginning of the season. Vilma spoke at great length of how good his knee is feeling, and how he’s progressing.

I had the luxury of sitting down with Jonathan Vilma to ask him questions about his upcoming 4th Annual ‘Celebrity Servers’ Event at Morton’s the Steakhouse in New Orleans.

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘So, 4th event, over here at Morton’s Steakhouse in New Orleans. For the people who may not know, how’d this all come about?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘This actually came about when the earthquake hit in Haiti, and I was trying to find the right way to one, raise the money, and two to help out, and I kind of took my time. I noticed everyone was helping out early on. There was a big rush to help out, and I just wanted to sit back, and I didn’t want to do anything that was too emotional or rushed. So, it took me a little bit, and finally I was able to set up this foundation, and that I wanted to gear it towards the schools, specifically towards young schools, and high schools. When I say young schools, the middle schools and high schools, not the college level. I was fortunate enough to team up with another group that was thinking along the same lines as I was, the Artists for Peace & Justice, and we basically partnered together and started building these schools from grades 7-13. We teach them in French, we want to build the infrastructure for them, transportation, you know the whole nine where they feel like some resemblance of real life, a normal life, as opposed to going back into the tents, and that’s how they get their “education”. So, you know, I’ve been doing that, and it’s been going well for the last 3 years, going on 4 years now, and that’s how it all came about.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘I know your efforts with Haiti, after the earthquake and everything, you put in a lot, and this has a lot of personal feelings for you, especially because your parents emigrated from Haiti. So tell me what it feels like to give back to that part of the area.’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘You know it feels great to give back, because it’s really all the hard work my parents put in when they came here to make sure that my sister and I led a great life, an American life, and you know, we’ve made the most of it. Now that I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position to give back, it’s almost a necessity, especially when you go down, and you see the way that some people are still living, years later, and not knowing when their break is going to come, no matter how hard they work to get out of their situation they’re in. So, to be able to help and give back, I almost feel it’s a necessity.

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘A ton of athletes are always talked about all of their on field contributions and performances, so what does it say about the players who do invest their time off the field by having foundations just like yours?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘I never wanna take anything against what the guys do out on the field because obviously, that’s our day job. That’s what we do, and that’s how we get paid. That’s how we make a living. But you know, it says a little bit, and something about the character of the person who wants to try to help out, and give back off the field and do things for other people who are less fortunate.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Anything different about this year, as opposed to previous years?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘About this one?’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Yeah, this particular event, excuse me’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘Yeah. You know the first year was the first year, so you never know, it’s a lot of unknowns. Then, the second year I actually wasn’t able to make it because I had surgery. Then, the third year there was a whole bunch of hoopla going on with the Bounty Gate and all that other stuff. So, this is actually the first time where’s it’s going to be normal. There are no unknowns. We know it’s going to be a great event, and I’m actually able to focus on it, as opposed to spending my time splitting my time with surgery, rehabbing from that, or Bounty Gate, dealing with all other off the field nonsense. So I think this one is going to be a nice, normal, relaxed event.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Good, and I know you had a bunch of your teammates come last year, do you anticipate any new faces to the team coming this year?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘Yeah, there’s actually a lot of new faces. There was a lot of turnover this year, as far as the team, so there will be a lot of new faces coming, and of course a lot of the old familiar faces as well.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Are you gonna have guys like Kenny Vaccaro, or any of the rookies, stick them on dish duty or anything?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘Oh yeah, definitely (laughs). Kenny (Vaccaro) will come. There’s a lot of young guys. Kenny, Akiem Hicks. You know, guys that may not be known, I mean they’ve heard of them now, but they’re young guys who weren’t even here two years ago. So, you know they’ll be there. Of course, the old faces like Drew Brees will be around. So, I’m excited for it.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Now I know last year, Malcolm Jenkins sported the bow tie and think he might have got the ‘best dressed’, do you think he’s going to be a repeat this year?’ Or is somebody else going to steal it this year?’ (laughs)

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘You know, he’s gonna try his hardest. (laughs). If he doesn’t repeat, he’s gonna come in a close second, he’s gonna try his hardest.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Good, and I know you wish everybody could attend the event, but what are some other ways people can help the foundation?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘You can always help. If you can’t donate your time. You can log onto JonathanVilmaFoundation.org, you can always donate. Any amount helps. Some people actually donated paintings to be auctioned off. So, any way that they can help, I always appreciate that. Someone can always appreciate that.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘So, Morton’s has tons of steaks around here, do you have a favorite thing you like to eat here?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘I’m a rib-eye guy.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Rib-eye, all the way. Now can you grill?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘No. (both laughs) But I can eat it.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Amen to that.’ (laughter)

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘So if you could tell anyone, especially some of the younger athletes why you think community involvement and foundations are so important, and should be more of a focus, what would you tell them?’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘You know, I would tell them to look past just you’re on the field, and understand that you’re in a very, very blessed, fortunate situation, and every now and then, take a step back, and just look around at not only your community, but the rest of the world, and understand that the way we live is very privileged. It’s very, not the norm. It’s almost exception to some of the ways people live around the world. To understand that, and to be able to help, I always believe it has to be within you. If it’s in you, go head and help out.’

John Hendrix (Who Dat Dish): ‘Thanks so much.’

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints): ‘No problem.’

More than 50 schools were destroyed in Haiti after the 7.0 earthquake in 2010. Vilma is on his third school with the help of Artists for Peace & Justice, and his foundation has raised over $400,000, which all proceeds cater specifically to Haiti.

Like so many athletes, Vilma has a great back story, and is very humble. You can clearly tell how genuine he is, and how his character shines when speaking to him. Sure, we know how players are on the field, but I would encourage each and every one of you to dig more. The connection that players form with their community aren’t by chance, it’s by their actions. Jonathan Vilma is a perfect example.

The event is Monday, November 11th from 6-10PM at Morton’s the Steakhouse on Canal Street (Shops at Canal Place). The event will feature a four-course meal, paired with fine wines, and parking is included. The Saints players trade in their helmets for aprons!

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Be sure to check out The Jonathan Vilma Foundation for more information about the upcoming event, and be sure to follow Jonathan Vilma on Twitter! @JonVilma51

On behalf of Who Dat Dish, I would personally like to thank Jonathan Vilma for the time to interview him, and thank Katelyn Roche of Dancie Perugini Ware Public Relations for helping arrange this!

We wish you the best Jonathan! Keep up the great work!

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