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Why injuries gave Ed Block Courage Award winner Joe Haden perspective

Joe and Annie Thomas co-chaired Deck the House, Providence House's annual holiday benefit auction that raises money to support children in need. Also at the event, Joe Haden received the 2016 Ed Block Courage Award. #give10

CLEVELAND — If there's a silver lining in the slew injuries Joe Haden has battled over the past year, he's found it.

In the process, the veteran Browns cornerback was chosen by his teammates to receive this year's Ed Block Courage Award.

And Haden, who was presented with the award Tuesday night at the Providence House's Annual Deck the House Benefit Auction at FirstEnergy Stadium, spoke of living in the moment and appreciating every week, every game and every play as if it were his last.

"It's super frustrating with the concussion and then a surprise ankle surgery, that could all just shock you really quick," Haden said. "But just my faith in God and my parents, and having a very strong support system, in (Browns assistant athletic trainer Gordon Williams) Gordo, my wife, my teammates who just always believed in me like, 'All right this is just a little setback — you'll be back just as good as ever.'

"And having that, just working and grinding and once it happens, it just feels good and it makes you appreciate every game a lot, a lot, a lot more."

The Ed Block Courage Award is given annually to a member of each of the 32 NFL teams who exemplifies the qualities of Ed Block, the former head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts, based on courage, compassion, commitment and community.

For Haden, who returned to the field this season after a nagging injuries and a concussion ended his 2015 season, the past year has been, at times, a trying one. After the team placed him on injured reserve last December, Haden learned in March he'd need an ankle surgery that would sideline him for the next few months.

"When we first came back for offseason workouts, the thing that really hurt me was that I wasn't able to be out there with them. I was on the scooter, doing my rehab and I just wanted to be a part of it — just feeling like you're secluded from your guys — that's something that can really kind of get to you and you don't want to ever make them feel like (that)," he said.

"And me wanting to be the leader of the team, I'm a guy that kind of leads by example. I'm not really a rah-rah guy too much so I kind of just show them by the way I work, the way I practice so not being able to be there … It just means so much to know that I got their respect, they didn't feel like I was loafing during offseason workouts, they felt like I was working and trying to get right and get back out there."

That kind of approach is why Haden has played through nagging groin injuries that forced him to miss three games this season.

"I think it's a special award for anybody, especially Joe, battling back from offseason surgeries and the injuries that he's had this year," left tackle Joe Thomas said, "and showing the courage that he's has being able to get out on the field and fight through the pain to help us win."

Haden, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who leads the team with three interceptions, said injuries have given him a newfound perspective. "You never know (when) your next game or next play," could be the last, he said.

And as Haden took center stage Tuesday night, Providence House's Deck the House Benefit Auction unfolded in the background where Thomas and his wife, Annie, served as honorary co-chairs for the event.

Providence House fights to end child abuse and neglect by protecting at-risk children, empowering families in crisis and building safe communities for every child. "Our goal is to allow the parents a free, voluntary place to leave their children, know they're safe and work with us to help themselves get well and be the best parents they can be to help their children safely return to home," said Providence House CEO & President Natalie Leek-Nelson. 

Providence House, which cares for about 400 children from the Greater Cleveland area, is privately funded and, as such, Tuesday night's fundraiser is key in supporting the organization's mission.

"Fundraisers like tonight aren't only fundraisers, they're friend-raisers," Leek-Nelson said. "It's telling our story, it's engaging new people and it's raising the dollars we need to care for as many children as we can. The number of donations we receive is directly related to the number of children we can care for."

Providence House has been the Cleveland Browns Courage House for Children since 1999.

"The Browns have been an amazing partner for us because it's not just the players and it's not just the front office, it's the entire organization and they're with us all year long even when it's not the season, they're still there," Leek-Nelson said.

"They're in touch with us, we work with them and literally on our campus, in our crisis nursery, we've seen everyone from Dee Haslam on the owner's side from members of the front office painting rooms to players decorating cookies to the wives' organization doing special Halloween parties for our kids. They are truly a part of our organization all year round."

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