The basement level of Cleveland's Metropolitan at the 9 was a veritable treasure trove on Monday night with tables upon tables of signed historical memorabilia. Everything from LeBron James's Rookie of the Year jersey to an original Star Wars movie poster was on display and up for auction.
The end result? More than $85,000 raised for the Brian Hartline Helping Hands Foundation, with proceeds going to help children and families in need throughout Northeast Ohio.
Hartline recruited a group of his teammates – Johnson Bademosi, Travis Benjamin, E.J. Bibbs, Taylor Gabriel, Andrew Hawkins, Darius Jennings, Paul Kruger, Marlon Moore, Danny Shelton and Craig Robertson – to attend the event. It didn't take much convincing on Hartline's part.
"He didn't really have to do anything but ask. We're a pretty tight-knit group," Bademosi said. "I know he'd do that for us, our teammates know he'd do that for them."
Hartline showed his appreciation for his teammates' willingness to attend early in his opening speech.
"I didn't even have to bribe them," he joked. "It's great!"
The incredible vault of signed items was part of the silent auction, but there was also a live auction component centered on experiences and getaways. There was also a "last man standing" auction for a giant bottle of wine signed by the players in attendance.
Hartline even sweetened the pot for one of the packages – a foursome at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Columbus – by texting Columbus resident and PGA star Jason Day, asking if he'd join for an extra round with the winners. This predictably set off a bidding war and ended up raising $10,000 for charity.
Brian Hartline hosted a celebrity waiter night with his teammates, with all the proceeds going to the Brian Hartline Helping Hands Foundation.
In the end, the $85,000 raised for Hartline's foundation will have a profound impact in a multitude of ways.
First and foremost, the foundation raises funds to help people with severely ill and special-needs children afford their bills and medication. "We try to alleviate that worry," Hartline said. Additionally, he's working to set up "Brian's E-Zone" in local hospitals, an area with iPads and other electronics where kids and parents can go to get their minds off of their respective situation.
On Tuesday, with the help of University Hospitals, Hartline visited UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital for a Santa's Helper day, visiting dozens of children and providing them with care packages. Hartline's community efforts are part of the Browns First and Ten movement, picking out a cause that's important to him and going out to make an impact.
"We want to really just be a bright spot in their week and do something positive at UH," he said. "Thanks again to them for partnering with us and really allowing us to provide some assistance."
His foundation also helps with another cause, giving care packages and encouragement to young athletes in orthopedic units battling back from injury. It's something he's been through before. As a high school senior, he broke his leg in the first game of the season and worried his athletic career was in jeopardy.
Hartline still remembers the encouragement from area athletes who helped him stay focused on his way back as a high school senior. And now, years later, he's in the midst of a successful NFL career and able to give that same encouragement to young athletes in a similar situation.
That NFL career also helped him acquire the impressive collection of memorabilia for Monday's event, which focused heavily on Cleveland sports history. Using the city's rich sports heritage and passion as a means to give back is a powerful thing for Hartline.
"There's a lot of passionate people in Cleveland, and passion geared in the right direction can be very powerful," he said. "The local teams, local venues and local people have helped and all pitched in, it's a very positive turnout and we're very excited.
"Hopefully we'll raise a lot of capital and do a lot of good and really provide and help families who have tough circumstances."