Black History Year Round: Warrick Dunn
***EDITOR’S NOTE: Black History Year Round – Revised 8.31.2011
Black History Figure:
I can write a Warrick Dunn biography myself, given that I have followed his life since he joined the Florida State Seminoles football team in 1993. He is one of my favorite players ever, both at FSU and in the NFL and the reason he is being listed today as our person of the day is the fact that he is a humanitarian and a person who used his platform as an NFL star for unselfish reasons and many people have benefited from his good works.
Warrick Dunn was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1975. Most FSU fans and ardent college football followers know his story. As he was growing up, his mother Betty Smothers had been a police officer while raising her children as a single parent. While Dunn was an accomplished football star at Catholic High in Baton Rouge (played quarterback, cornerback and runningback — leading the school to a state title 1991), he was unprepared for what lied in store just as he was set to graduate high school and attend Florida State.
Just after New Year’s in 1993, Dunn’s mother was murdered as she escorted a businesswoman to a bank in order to make a night deposit. That left Dunn to care for his siblings on his own and as an incoming freshman at Florida State — where he immediately began playing upon arrival later that year.
As a personal side note, I was overwhelmed to hear Dunn’s story when he first saw the playing field at Florida State. At that time, I read everything about the team, recruiting information and gathered information for my Sports Digest that I was known for writing back then (pre-internet). It was remarkable to me to hear about an 18-year old lose his mother, raise his siblings, start as a freshman on a powerhouse football team, helping them win a National Championship as a freshman, focus on his studies and still come out on the other end as a better man.
Dunn left Florida State with many of the rushing records, most of which still stand today (3,959 rushing yards for his career, 1,418 yards in 1995 — which was a season filled with irony, as Dunn’s fumble vs. Virginia led to FSU’s first ACC loss and knocked them from contention for the 1995 National Championship) and embarked upon a stellar NFL playing career, finishing with nearly 11,000 rushing yards. Not bad for someone who was considered too smallish and not built to withstand the rigors of NFL rushing. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1997-2001, 2008 and the Atlanta Falcons from 2002-2007, narrowly missing a Super Bowl win, as the Bucs won in 2002 — the year after Dunn left for Atlanta.
During his initial stint with the Buccaneers, however, Dunn began the program for which he is noted as a humanitarian. The Warrick Dunn Foundation, and by-proxy, the Homes For The Holidays Program. The latter assists struggling single parents purchase homes. The program buys homes through a down payment provided by Dunn, who also worked with area sponsors to furnish and outfit the homes. The program, as of 2009, has assisted 86 single parents and 233 dependents in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Tampa, and Tallahassee. Dunn’s goal is help these parents realize the dream that his mother was not able to give to him and his siblings, to own their own home. Dunn’s achievements have been recognized over the years. He received a Giant Steps Award in civic leadership from former President Bill Clinton for his program. In 2005, Dunn was presented with the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award; named after the Chicago Bears running back who died in 1999, the award is the only NFL award that recognizes a player for his community service as well as for his excellence on the field. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Dunn challenged all NFL players, except for those who play for the New Orleans Saints, to donate at least $5,000 to the effort. The effort received over $5 million in contributions.
For his exceptional involvement on and off the field, Dunn was awarded with the 2009 Bart Starr Award.
Warrick Dunn has always been an inspiration for me. From dealing with his loss, to watching his breathtaking play at FSU, to being a guy who stood 5’9″ and 185 most of his career, which is just about my height and weight — to developing programs to help the less fortunate (things that I am going to follow suit and do as well). He is a beacon of light in a league (NFL) and atmosphere (professional sports) that gets far too much publicity for the wrongs its players commits, rather than focusing on players like Warrick Dunn.