Drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft, Warrick Dunn will always be a favorite among fans of the franchise. While Atlanta Falcons fans will also hold on to him as their own, this is one player both fan bases can celebrate together.
And this week provides fans of the man another reason to do so, as he has spent the last 23 years doing work so much more important than anything that happens on a football field.
Bucs fans know the story well. Dunn grew up in a single parent household with his five siblings. His mother was a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dunn’s mother, Betty Smothers, was shot and killed in the line of duty in January of 1993. Just two weeks before Dunn’s visit to the Florida State campus that would set in motion everything he’s done to honor her and her memory ever since.
The mentality set in on the night he lost her. According to a Sports Illustrated article written by Ben Reiter, Dunn’s first thoughts went to his family and responsibility, in the light of tragedy.
“I’ve got to go and make sure the younger ones, my brothers and sisters, are O.K.,” he recalls. “Right then and there, my mindset changed.”
That mindset helped him catapult onto the college football scene, and then into the NFL as a first-round draft pick, making first-round NFL money. And he wasted no time finding ways to help those in situations he found all too familiar.
In the same SI article, Dunn recollected about how they then rookie helped three families who were moving into their first homes.
“When I saw their reactions, i’s like, Wow, man, I just changed somebody’s life,” Dunn says. “I was like, I want to do this again.”
So he did. 174 times in all. That’s 174 single parents, and 467 children who have been touched by Dunn and his efforts to reward those going through some of the struggles his mother and his siblings experienced.
Sports Illustrated dedicated their Sportsman of the Year award to Muhammad Ali in 2015. Since then, Jack Nicklaus (2015), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown and Bill Russell (2016), Colin Kaepernick (2017) and John Cena (2018), have received the award for their work in society and in the communities around them.
Warrick Dunn’s name is now added to that list. An illustrious list. One made up of athletes who take a little bit of the dream so many hope to achieve in athletics, and turn it into dreams come true for everyday people in all walks of life.
If Dunn isn’t your favorite football player - Seminoles, Buccaneers or Falcons - then he should at least be one of your favorite people. The child and teenager who surely made his mother proud every second she got to be his mother, has become a man worthy of the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, and someone we can all be proud of as fellow human beings.
To read more about Dunn and his selection as the 2019 Muhammad Ali Legacy Award winner, read the full article on si.com.