Detroit — Lions guard Rob Sims and his wife, Natalie, donated more than $80,000 to Detroit's Police Athletic League in the past two years, funds specifically dedicated to providing equipment for the youth football program.
The Sims family kept the donations mostly quiet, but Detroit PAL on Thursday recognized the couple at its MVP Awards ceremony at the Detroit Athletic Club, giving them the "Game Changer" award.
"Detroit was in a difficult time when we got here," said Sims, who joined the Lions via trade in 2010. "We felt that there was a reason for us being here, the timing that it was."
Sims, who's set to become a free agent after five years as the starting left guard, said he's donated about 10 percent of his most recent contract to local charities, including Detroit PAL and the Children's Center in Midtown.
He first learned about Detroit PAL, which helps more than 12,000 boys and girls participate in athletic and leadership programs, through Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, who's a board member for the organization. After learning about the program, he called it a "no-brainer" to donate and said he plans to continue.
Mayhew, Lions vice president of football operations Sheldon White and senior personnel executive Brian Xanders all attended the ceremony Thursday along with a few hundred other donors.
"You want guys like that on your football team," Mayhew said. "He's a great example for younger players, a guy that gives back to the community the way that he does. He's impacting lives in Detroit and helping kids have an opportunity to get involved with Detroit PAL.
"Some of those kids wouldn't even be playing football were it not for Rob and Natalie Sims' contribution."
Sims grew up in Cleveland, and during his speech said his philanthropic roots came from his father, who used to take him to church on Fridays and Saturdays to mow the lawn or do other handy work.
Now, though, he's adopted Detroit as his home.
"It's critical, especially in a city like Detroit," Mayhew said of players supporting local charities. "They don't have that constant stream of funding for youth activity so when you see guys step up like that it's a lot more meaningful."
Detroit PAL's athletic director Dewayne Jones said all of the Simses' money is used specifically for providing safer equipment for the football program, which has leagues for boys ages 7 to 14.
"It's not every day that people talk about the good things you're doing in our business. It's usually just the bad stuff," Sims said. "This is awesome for me and my wife."