FRANKLIN, Tenn. - Kevin Mawae has been busy the past week just trying to be a good neighbor in the aftermath of the flooding in Tennessee.
The 16-year NFL veteran, who is also president of the NFL Players Association, has been going door to door checking who needs help. Mawae has also been helping rip out drenched floors, walls and insulation since the flooding May 1-2.
Mawae (muh-WHY) feels lucky with only water in the crawl space below his house south of Nashville. His family was stuck at home until the waters ebbed. He started first by handing out water and snacks to neighbors, then by getting his hands dirty.
"This is neighbor working with neighbors. It's not about photo ops and media bites and stuff like that. It's about helping somebody who needs the help, and I've really enjoyed that," Mawae said Tuesday. "If I was under contract, I don't know if I'd have the time to do all this. I would like to think that regardless of I was or wasn't, I'd probably go take a few days to help."
Mawae currently is between teams after playing the past five seasons with the Tennessee Titans. He has stayed in town hoping to re-sign with the Titans while organizing a July camp where he will join a couple other NFL veterans teaching run- and pass-blocking techniques to budding linemen.
Not that Mawae has been running around in his jersey or introducing himself as an NFL player. Maggie Coyle heard someone calling from her front door last week, asking if anyone was home. She looked up and saw what she called, "A big man, a very big man"-it was the 6-foot-4, 289-pound Mawae checking to see what she needed.
"That's the coolest part. People recognize me and just thankful that you're here to do the dirty work with them instead of taking pictures and glad-handing people," Mawae said.
Then Mawae's friend Dino Rizzo, pastor of Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, La., called to ask how they could help. A team of people from three churches stayed at Mawae's house last week while surveying damages to help figure out which teams to send in the coming weeks from a coalition of churches.
A day after the roads dried up and allowed Mawae to leave his own home, he joined volunteers from a local church and put his strength to work with the dirty chores of demolishing water-soaked floors. Last weekend, he was among 400 who showed up at another church before being sent out. His crew stripped down five homes that day to help homeowners prep for the next stage: Cleaning, then rebuilding.
Only the football fans on hand recognized a man whose pro career has been spent in the relative anonymity of the offensive line as a guard and center. He introduced himself only as "Kevin" before quickly heading out for another long day of physical labor.
Mawae has been in flooded neighborhoods throughout Franklin and Nashville and knows how random the disaster has been, even in Tennessee. Some streets look perfectly normal only to turn a corner and see an entire street completely devastated. Flood waters dried up quickly in some areas and within a week in most, making it easier to ignore the extensive damage.
"There's a perception from the outside world this isn't as bad as they say it is. ... Because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there. You've got to know the neighborhoods," Mawae said.
Donations have poured in from the pro teams that call Nashville home.
Titans owner Bud Adams pitched in $200,000 from his foundation, which the NFL and the players union matched. The NHL and Nashville Predators also made donations through their foundations with each of the players on the final roster giving money even with some overseas at the World Championships.
All the help will be needed for what will be a long-term fix.
"A lot of people and our neighbors don't have flood insurance. A lot didn't know where to start. You sit there at a wall, 'What do I do next? It takes a team of people and government agencies. ... The people of Nashville have really stepped up and helped their neighbors," Mawae said.