As a former football player who spent six seasons in the NFL, Brad White knew firsthand the importance of a strong work ethic and playing through pain. His grit and tenacity extended well beyond the playing field into his post-football career. When Brad was diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM) in July 2021, he tackled his diagnosis with the same mindset.
One of Braden’s early memories of his father is hearing the phrase, “play hurt,” while he played pee wee football. His dad used this phrase to teach him about mental toughness — to keep pushing through challenges and find a way to make it happen. This mantra stayed with Braden and his sister Bailey as they grew up to excel through adversity.
“At first, it was a phrase he used to teach us a lesson,” Braden explained. “Later on, it turned into our mindset of how we attack things. It’s to keep pushing regardless of the challenge or adversity for whatever you’re trying to accomplish.”
After retiring from the NFL, Brad remained disciplined — waking up at 3:30 a.m., working out, and arriving to work at 6:30 a.m. before everyone else. While applying for jobs after graduating from college, Braden spent a few months helping out on his father’s operations team. Braden noticed his dad started skipping workouts and coming to work later than usual. His kids speculated that Brad’s bad back was bothering him again, but they quickly realized something was off when the confusion began.
He went in for testing, and a scan uncovered a mass in their father’s head.
“Now that we had a diagnosis, we had to go explain that to my dad,” Braden said. “For me, that was one of the most uncertain moments of my life. I don’t think that’s ever a conversation you want to have. It was tough facing my dad and telling him that he has a tumor in his head.”
Even in that difficult moment and the 24 hours that followed, the “play hurt” mantra wasn’t far from their thoughts.
“I stayed with him at the hospital that night, and I remember just laying there crying,” Braden said. “I remembered all that my dad had taught me about attacking adversity, and I knew that he was about to do the same for this, and I was going to do it with him. I didn’t know what would come next — none of us did. He taught us to tackle what was thrown at us and to play hurt, so we were ready to do that.”
Braden had accepted a job offer in New York only two weeks prior. With the news of his father’s diagnosis, he quickly considered his options and called the company to decline.
“It was probably the best decision I ever made because I got to spend that last year with my dad and be right there with him through it all,” Braden shared. “Bailey and I were willing to put whatever aside with our careers to prioritize my dad and be there with him when he needed it.”
The standard of care — surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy — was tough on their dad, and his state of confusion was incredibly difficult for the whole family.
“As soon as diagnosis occurred, he was never the same after that,” Braden said. “Having to see him day by day become less and less of him was the hardest thing to see. Because by the end, physically and mentally, he was so unlike the dad that we had grown up knowing and had been our hero and role model throughout our lives.”
Starting a T-Shirt Campaign
While Brad was going through chemo, Braden started running, and his mind began to focus on the family’s “play hurt” mantra.
“I realized that there were a lot of people like us, and if they’re going through the same thing, maybe there was a way that we could use this bad situation to bring some good,” Braden explained. “I consider myself really optimistic, but this was the first situation where I looked for the good in the situation, and I couldn’t find it. With that, I think true optimism is not finding the good. Sometimes it’s creating the good.”
Bailey and Braden brainstormed ways to fundraise on behalf of the brain tumor community, coming up with a campaign to sell shirts with “Play Hurt” on the front and the proceeds benefiting the National Brain Tumor Society. Their father loved the shirt idea, and he would proudly wear his shirt to physical therapy. Since the campaign’s inception in Feb. 2022, the pair have raised more than $40,000 for NBTS.
“Because at the end of the day, we want to do our best to model what we think our dad would do, and he would help so many others fighting the same fight,” Bailey said.
Bailey is currently exploring the concept of a two-day charity concert festival in memory of her dad to benefit NBTS.
“My dad always had a love of community and helping others, and after attending college in Nashville for music business, I decided to move back to The Shoals because the music community has covered me in love here,” Bailey said. “That being said, it only feels right that we do a fundraising concert in this area to bring people together and tap into that supportive and kind mentality here in The Shoals.”
For Braden, the daily runs he started going on when his dad was going to chemo and radiation continue to help him one year after his father passed away at the age of 63.
“It gave me something to wake up, attack, and play hurt every day with him as he attacked his chemo and radiation,” Braden said. “I kept running through everything that happened, and it has led me to what’s next with the ‘Play Hurt’ project and running.”
Braden intends to run in multiple marathons over the next year, starting this fall, as a member of the Gray Nation Endurance® team to raise money for NBTS.
“If I were to explain the ideas we are currently working on to my dad, I can see the big smile that would spread across his face,” Braden shared. “He would be all on board. He would love that because we’re impacting others and helping people in need and going after something big and challenging. He’s still challenging us today.”
Fundraise Your Way
Start a fundraiser in your community like Bailey and Braden did following their father’s glioblastoma diagnosis with the “Play Hurt” t-shirt campaign. NBTS will support your efforts and provide you with the fundraising resources you need.
Whether you create your own event, start a fundraising page, or celebrate a milestone, your efforts can help advance our mission and fuel the breakthroughs we need to find a cure.
“I think it is important to share my dad’s story on GBM Awareness Day because I strongly feel that in difficult times, it’s important to show others they aren’t alone but also that everyone’s story is worth hearing,” Bailey explained. “As painful and difficult as it was throughout my Dad’s diagnosis, I know that our journey, and specifically my Dad’s journey, deserves to be shared. Maybe it will inspire others to help someone in need, let someone know they aren’t alone, or even just have someone learn something they didn’t know about and start a conversation. These conversations are what help families and help change.”