Monday, February 16, 2009

Making A Difference; Warrick Dunn

Note: This is the first in a series of articles about some of the more extraordinary people from all walks of life who give of themselves above and beyond what is expected. You'll read stories of the famous, of the not so famous, and of those who's own generosity may go unnoticed and under reported.

In telling these stories to those who wish to read them, and with videos of these individuals telling their stories in their own words, its my hope that in some small way I may contribute and give something back to a world that can be tough, but is always in need of some kindness and inspiration.

I'll start the series with the tale of a very good player from the National Football League, but even a better human being, Warrick Dunn of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Pictures can tell a thousand words. Videos allow us to paint tens of thousands of words. Here, from NBC's Today Show, is a recent interview by Tiki Barber (with Ann Curry), the story of NFL running back Warrick Dunn.

I first saw Warrick Dunn on when he was a star running back for Florida State University in the mid-1990's. In his career at FSU Dunn ran for 3,959 yards, and became the first FSU running back to rush for 1,000 or more yards in three consecutive years. He was an All-ACC running back in back to back to back years, and is one of only seven former Seminoles to have his jersey (#28) retired.

But I didn't know Warrick Dunn's back story until his junior year; I never knew that on January 7,1993, his mother Betty Smothers- an off duty police officer who was working a second job as a security guard- was murdered by bank robbers in Louisiana. Dunn (born January 5, 1975) became the head of the household, the oldest of four children. Years later Dunn was named the legal guardian of his younger siblings. Dunn was interviewed by Roger Mills of THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES in 2000 about his "single fatherhood".

I saw Dunn's story on a college football preview show. He told the interviewer that contrary to the prevailing opinion of experts, that he would return to school for his senior year and obtain his degree rather than enter the NFL draft.

His message to his family, and to the world was simple. The money can wait- I need this degree for after football.

Dunn received his Bachelor's Degree from Florida State in 1997. That same year he was a first round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 12th overall pick of the 1997 NFL Draft.

Warrick Dunn played with Tampa Bay from 1997 to 2001, moved on to the Atlanta Falcons for six seasons, 2002-2007, and returned to the Bucs for the 2008 season. For his career he has rushed for 10,967, scored 49 touchdowns, caught 510 passes for 4,339 yards and 15 touchdowns. In his more than 3,000 offensive touches he has only fumbled 25 times and lost 16 fumbles for his career, a remarkably low percentage.

The Warrick Dunn Foundation

Warrick Dunn Foundation video from FSU Headlines on Vimeo.

The following is an excerpt from
The Warrick Dunn Foundation website.

"Welcome to my Foundation Web site and thank you for taking an interest in my charitable activities. Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I was blessed to have people in my life who taught me the importance of helping others in need.

I did not grow up with many material things, but I was surrounded by the love of my family, friends and coaches. My mother worked overtime to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Although we did not have much, she taught me how to give of myself and to be generous to those in need.

Walking down the street you will see common, everyday people going about their daily lives, working hard to make ends meet. Look closer and you will see their hardships and responsibilities.

…the mother on the street holding her toddler in one arm as she waits for the city bus so she can take her child to daycare and then go to work.

…the lady at the grocery store check–out counter with three kids in tow having to put items back because she just does not have enough money to cover the bill.

Look even closer and you will see the pride in their eyes that they are doing everything they can to provide for their children. These are the people I feel most compelled to help. The Warrick Dunn Foundation strives to help those who are helping themselves. I learned a long time ago that you cannot be all things to all people. However, each of us can do our part to help in some small way to make our community a better place to live. As a result of growing up in a single-parent household, I have focused my charitable efforts on helping single parent families obtain first-time homeownership. I believe that homeownership is the foundation for establishing a stable and productive family environment, an environment in which children can thrive educationally, socially and economically."

Warrick Dunn

Also from the website;

"As the oldest of six, Warrick grew up watching his mother, Betty Smothers, provide for him and his five siblings. As a single mother she worked endless hours as a Baton Rouge police officer and several off-duty jobs to make ends meet. During Warrick’s senior year at Catholic high school, his mother’s life was taken in the line of duty, leaving him the responsibility of keeping the family together. Although she worked hard all of her life, Betty was never able to realize the American dream of owning her own home.

After being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft, Warrick established the “Homes for the Holidays” program in Tampa, Fla. The program honors Betty’s dream of homeownership for other single parents. In 1998, the “Homes for the Holidays” program was introduced to Warrick’s hometown of Baton Rouge, La. and in Atlanta, Ga. in 2002 during his first year with the Atlanta Falcons. The “Homes for the Holidays” program currently exists in Atlanta, Tampa, Baton Rouge and Tallahassee, Fla. in 2007. As of January 2009, the program has assisted 84 single parents and 224 dependents to achieve first-time homeownership"

Warrick Dunn's credentials from Canton may be questioned as far as a possible Hall of Fame induction. His credentials as one of the finest individuals and men of character in the sports world, or in our society, in beyond reproach. His charitable works and goodness of heart are keeping the legacy of his mother, who died so needlessly and tragically, alive and burning brightly.

The world of sports sometimes really does give us true heroes and role models on occasion. And Warrick Dunn is at that forefront, more so for who he is and what he does, and not just for how he played the game.

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