For many professional athletes stories of struggle and adversity are hardly a rare thing to hear about. From long winding roads of hard work and determination, to stories of domestic troubles and harsh living conditions, the underdog story is one that is hard to pass up on and solidifies many athletes’ level of respect and admiration. For former NFL running back Warrick Dunn, growing up the oldest of six children definetly brought upon its challenges.
Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Warrick Dunn was the oldest of six siblings raised by his mother Betty Smothers, who was a police officer that often worked off-duty shifts to provide for her children. Tragically, in 1993 she was gunned down in an armed robbery during an off-duty shift leaving Warrick, 18 at the time, to take care of all five of his younger siblings. A responsibility most 18-year-olds couldn’t begin to imagine yet alone face it head on. However, the Baton Rouge community came together at the time of her death to create a memorial fund for the family, honoring what his mother had given to the city throughout her duties as an officer. Through the endless support of his community matched with the lesson his mother had unknowingly given him, Dunn was given the tools and initiative that would make him a symbol of hope for the countless families he would later help.
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft, Dunn made an immediate impact to the team and was selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. He also started the Homes for the Holidays program that gave single parents the opportunity of owning their own home by placing down payments on real estate; a dream his mother unfortunately never saw. In 2002, the Warrick Dunn Family Foundation was established as a source in which programs and services for single parent families had an opportunity to grow. To date, around 100 single parents and close to 250 dependants have received assistance through Homes for the Holidays and the Warrick Dunn Family Foundation.
Dunn’s work has hardly gone unnoticed. He has received the Giant Step Award in civic leadership from former US President Bill Clinton and in 2005 he received the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award; presented to the player that is recognized for his community service, as well as on-field performance. In response to Hurricane Katrina, Dunn encouraged all NFL players, with the exception of Saints players, to donate at least $5,000 to the efforts. His leadership and awareness raised over $5 million in contributions. Dunn also won the Bart Starr Award in 2008 which is given annually to an NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community. Nominees are gathered from the Public Relations Directors of each NFL team, the past winners of the award, the Athletes in Action pro staff working with NFL teams and Bart Starr himself.
In 2007, Dunn alongside multiple professional athletes, helped co-found Athletes for Charity to help athletes, sports industry professionals and fans become involved in charitable causes. Through Homes for the Holidays and the Warrick Dunn Family Foundation, his mother’s dreams have become a reality through the countless number of families that have been assisted; a gift that will never grow old.
To learn more about the Warrick Dunn Family Foundation, visit http://www.wdc.org/
To learn more about Athletes for Charity, visit http://www.athletesforcharity.com/foundation.php