A Winner in the Superbowl of Life
On Sunday afternoons during the fall you are sure to hear the name Warrick Dunn. Football scores, game highlights, instant replays, and weekend records typically reflect his most recent game as a star running back with the Atlanta Falcons. His rising stardom has much to do with his excitement and success on the field, but when you look beyond sports, you’ll see there is a lot more to Warrick Dunn than carrying the football over the touchdown line.
His tough approach to the game of football is balanced by his tender nature. “You’d better move that closer,” he said as he motioned to my recorder. “I don’t talk loud.” His soft-spoken words were kind and gentle, somewhat different that I expected from a guy tough as nails on Sunday. His smile was full of warmth, and it was evident this was a well-educated man who was extremely well spoken and filled with compassion.
“Warrick is a winner in the Superbowl of Life,” says team owner Arthur Blank, referring to Warrick’s relentless charity work off the field. “Warrick holds himself to a higher standard. He’s not about flash, he’s about quiet dignity…every sports team and player should take a page from Warrick’s book of life.” Perhaps those are the qualities that earned him the prestigious title, NFL’s Man of the Year in 2004. This is one man who lives in harmony with the often-quoted Biblical phrase, “to whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)
His superb ability to play the game of football may fool others into believing his talent comes easy. However, this talent was born of a lifetime of hard work, responsibility, and the understanding that hard times produce character.
“She was my best friend, and everything to my family,” Warrick said as he reflected on the day his mother was shot and killed in the line of duty as a police officer in Baton Rouge, LA. A critical time in his life, he was in the midst of finishing high school and deciding on his college plans when that devastating blow altered his plans forever.
Raised in a single parent home, his family lived in several different houses around the city. Warrick is the oldest of six children, making him the father figure and deeming him the nickname “mom’s little man.” Without the presence of his father, his mom worked long hours and was the sole provider as single mom. At an early age, Dunn was living the life of a responsible adult. Cooking, helping his brothers and sisters with homework, and driving from the age of fourteen made him mature beyond his years. “I feel like a grandfather now,” says now 28-year-old Dunn as he laughs while remembering helping his mom run a busy household.
After his mom passed, the city of Baton Rouge rallied behind the Dunn family and helped them adjust to the abrupt loss of their mom. They raised money and the family was able move forward. However, this happened just 2 days after Warrick’s eighteenth birthday, and he knew the responsibility of his family now rested solely on his young shoulders.
Raised in a Christian home, his mom taught him that faith comes from within. “It’s the strangest times when you are tested, and I suppose I was tested. I was mad at God, but I had to believe that things happen for a reason,” he said with confidence.
His success in high school football at the elite Catholic High School in Baton Rouge earned him a scholarship to Florida State. It was here that he met a mentor that would impact his life forever, Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward. His college roommate, Ward lived by the Bible and set an example that would have a life long impact on Dunn. During those years, he was able to watch Charlie live his faith, and taught him to stay humble no matter what. “I was still going through a lot emotionally, he helped me through that difficult time,” he remembered with gratitude.
With the type of college success Warrick had at Florida, the speculations soon began about NFL opportunities before he finished college. But Dunn was not interested. “I hadn’t had money for 21 years, what was another year?” His commitment to his mom’s dream for him to finish college as well as his desire to set an example for his siblings were paramount in his decision to finish and earn his degree in Information Studies. He was also the all-time rushing leader in FSU history with 3,959 yards, and scored 47 touchdowns, another FSU record. He also became the first in Seminole history to record three, 1,000 yard rushing seasons.
Though many pro scouts said Dunn at 5’9” 180 pounds was too small for the NFL, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him. He was the 12th overall pick by the Buc’s in 1997, making him part of the dynamic Thunder and Lightning backfield that helped Tampa Bay make it to the playoffs four times in five seasons.
In the midst of the daily demands of professional football, Warrick was still the ‘father’ to his siblings. “They all moved to Tampa Bay with me. They were still in school, and it was stressful. I didn’t really have my own life; I was busy carpooling and doing homework when I wasn’t playing football.”
While in his rookie year, Coach Tony Dungy challenged the players to “give back to the community.” Dunn’s huge heart of compassion was able to take all of the trials of his youth and do something to help others in similar circumstances. “Mom had a heart that would do anything for anybody,” Warrick remembered as if she were just here yesterday. “She was never able to own her own house, and it was her lifelong dream. Instead we moved around a lot. Now was my chance to give something back.”
Homes for the Holidays started in partnership with the Warrick Dunn Foundation, and is a vehicle to help single moms own their own home and find stability. Through donations of individuals and commitments from companies across the country, they are busy providing homes in the three home cities of Dunn, Tampa Bay, Baton Rouge, and Atlanta.
The first year, the foundation secured 4 homes for families in need. Since that time, they have placed 52 moms and 135 kids in homes! “That is how a mom can take several steps at once, we do the whole shebang, furniture, food, and house wares, all they bring is clothes.” He said as he recalled the growth of the program. “The first mom cried, she was happy to be getting a new start in life. And I will always be a part of her life and that is a great feeling.”
When discussing Warrick’s outstanding career, it is evident he is living his dream and fulfilling God’s specific purpose for his life. Asking what advice he might offer to any one seeking a more meaningful life, he was consistently soft spoken yet confident of his response.
“Try different things, nothing is easy. You have to have faith and believe you have a purpose. Not everyone will be an athlete or a rock star. You have to find a niche and try to perfect it. People get blinded by doing things they don’t do with their heart. The will comes from within.”
”I am living my dream, but I would take my mom back over everything else. I never considered myself unhappy because the necessities in life are your family,” he said with with a hint of sadness.
Warrick Dunn has certainly made a difference, and based in his heart-felt commitment to helping others he will continue to do for years to come. In his humility he was quick to say that anyone can do the same. “It only takes one. Just like anything else, tell one rumor and it spreads with a vengeance. Do the same with God’s story, tell it. Christians need to tell people what really matters and live by example. People don’t do what strangers on TV are saying do, they do what they see others doing.”
Often when we read stories such as this, we are inspired and motivated by the triumphant stories of how others overcame hardship and made something good of a bad experience. We have all experienced heartache, and often our very healing comes from healing someone else’s wound. No matter your past, your story can provide healing for someone else.
Take an inventory of your life and establish goals for how your compassion can become your passion. Your history just may offer hope for someone else’s future. What events in your life caused you the most pain? Reflect on Romans 8:28 and know that all things do work together for good, and allow God to do what only God can do. He can bring Glory to His Kingdom through your faith in His promises.
Ask God to use your life to make a difference for someone else. It only takes one. That one just may be you.
PLEASE insert my blurb here with the picture. Beth Townsend….