Former NFL players visit American Samoa

A pair of former NFL players of Samoan descent finished a trip this week to American Samoa, where they helped with tsunami recovery efforts and handed over a check for $50,000 from the league and players association.

Reno Mahe and Gabe Reid both said they were impressed with the resourcefulness of residents in rebuilding from the September tsunami, which killed more than 200 people in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. American Samoa is a U.S. territory.

“It’s devastating, people’s houses are all gone,” said Mahe, a former running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. “These people don’t take anything for granted, they’re right back out there rebuilding and moving forward. It’s pretty cool to see this. It makes you proud of where you come from, and who you are.”

Reid, who was born in American Samoa and played tight end for the Chicago Bears, said that he visited places on the island where stores and gas stations have vanished.

“It almost looks like, in my opinion, what it would have looked like 70-80 years ago,” he said. “A lot of the houses are completely wiped out. On some parts of the island, the only thing we see is tents. It’s pretty clean considering the amount of devastation that took place here. One reason why it’s cleaned up is because people have taken ownership.”

During their trip, which was organized in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the players helped set up tents for displaced residents. The $50,000 was given to the American Red Cross through the league and players association’s Disaster Relief Fund.

About 30 current NFL players have ties to American Samoa, according to the league, and many players with Samoan backgrounds are also raising funds on their own to help victims.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a telephone interview Friday that the returning players are viewed as heroes in their homeland.

“To have them come back and represent the NFL helps connect the survivors of the tsunami with many of their families and friends and the rest of the nation back here,” Fugate said. “So they were ambassadors for the NFL, but also for the mainland as a whole.”

Mahe believes other NFL players will make the trip.

“I guarantee that about 90 percent of the Polynesian players in the league will be out here when the season’s over,” he said. “I’d bet my house on it.”