September 1, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Warrick Dunn

Founder, Warrick Dunn Family Foundation; part-owner, Atlanta Falcons; former NFL running back, Tampa; age 36

Art Levy | 9/29/2011

Warrick Dunn
[Photo: Don Chambers]
» When you don't know anything, it doesn't make sense to go into a room and just start talking. Over the years, I sat back and I listened. I watched. I noticed. I asked a lot of questions. That's how I pick things up.

» My foundation helps single parents get homes. Each house is therapy for me. The program is in honor of my mom. Homeownership was her dream, and she didn't have that opportunity, so I'm living her dream through other single parents.

» Some of the guys I hung out with when I was younger, they're dead, from just living the fast life. I knew people on drugs. I knew people who sold drugs. Everybody is trying to figure out ways to make it and put food on the table, but that's not the type of life that I wanted to live. You can't be like that when your mother is a police officer.

» I started playing football when I was probably 7 years old, and I was so small that no one wanted to pick me. But when I played, no one could tackle me. I had a knack for making people miss.

» My mom was killed after I had already played my senior year of high school football. We were getting ready to go out on recruiting trips. That semester of school was rough. I can remember at times I was sitting in class and crying.

» You can't hide from depression. You keep everything inside, it's only going to ruin you. I've had to learn that the hard way. It made me hard, made my heart hard.

» When I was playing for the Atlanta Falcons, I spoke to the owner, Arthur Blank, about being upstairs. A lot of times, people think we just want to make money, but I'm thinking bigger. I dropped a little bug in his ear, but I didn't ask. You have to be invited into the ownership group, and he invited me. Now, I'm learning more about the business side of the game, the marketing aspects, the salary cap, putting a team together. Mr. Blank helped start the Home Depot and made it into a global brand. I can learn a lot.

» I'm the oldest of six. A lot of responsibility fell on me.

» My mom talked to me a lot about life, about grownup things. I kid you not, we'd talk about so many different things that I'd think, 'Wow, why are you talking about this to me?' The things she talked about started to make sense after her passing. It all just came together, the way that she handled things. It was like she was preparing me for that day.

» My first thought was not to go to FSU and play football. I needed to stay home and take care of my brothers and sisters. I was going to try to get a job, but my grandmother said go and she'd make sure everything was OK.

» At Florida State, I was trying to be a parent from afar. My deal with Coach Bowden was if I needed to go home, I could go home. He gave me that leeway, so instead of being a typical college kid, my spring breaks and free weekends were spent looking over my family.

» Because of counseling, really, which helped me a lot, I got to a point to where I was ready to sit down and talk to the guy who shot and killed my mom. I had to let this individual know how he altered my life. I felt stuck, not being able to have my own family, prolonging getting married and having kids. I needed closure so I could move forward.

» I went to the prison and sat across the table from this individual. It was crazy. There were no bars. We didn't have anything separating us. Honestly, I didn't feel the need to jump across the table. That wasn't my desire at all. I was able to share a lot of things that I thought I needed to share. I told him how it affected my family, how it affected my life, put my life on hold. It felt good to get it off my chest. He said he didn't do it, but I was expecting him to say that. He told me, you know, that I should move on, that it's time for me to start living my life, to not let it hold me back.

» I played the game of football, enjoyed it, loved it. Could I have been a better football player? Yes. I think I could have been. I think a little bit of my joy of playing was taken away.

» So far, we've helped more than 100 single parents become homeowners.

» There are people who knew me before and they see me now and they tell me I'm different. I laugh. I smile. I hang out a lot more. I travel. I like to go bowling, golfing. I'm really just starting to live.

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