Florida Icon Thaddeus Bullard
Former football player, social activist, WWE wrestler "Titus O'Neil," Tampa; age 41
Being a father to me is first and foremost the greatest title I’ll ever possess. It’s not WWE champion. It’s dad.
My mom had me at a very young age via rape. She was 12, so she was just a kid trying to raise me. I had a lot of anger issues, angry about the fact that we were poor, angry at not having a father figure in the home, angry that a lot of people pegged me as a kid who would be dead or in jail by the time I was 16.
The first thing I’d like to see Florida do a better job at is funding public education and funding the salaries of teachers. I think teachers are the most underappreciated asset in our state — and the whole country.
I was born in Boynton Beach, and I was a kid who was getting into a lot of trouble. Eventually, I got the opportunity to go to the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch up in Live Oak. When I first got there, I hated my mom because I felt like she had given up on me and kind of threw me away. But it was at the ranch that my life changed for the better.
A lot of times people say that I’m a great ambassador for the African- American community. To me, that’s a slap in the face because I’m more concerned about my character than my color. I don’t ever lose track of my race and my heritage, but I don’t use them as a prop.
I didn’t find out how I was conceived until I was 17 years old. My mom came up one day to the boys ranch. I was doing really well up there, and I thought I might be going home because my mom never came to the ranch. In the office, she sat me down and told me she was proud of me and she thought that this would be a good time to tell me how I was conceived. She explained what happened, and all the hate that I had for her suddenly turned into love.
People think that celebrity is power. It really isn’t power, but it’s influence. There’s a difference. I look at my platform as an opportunity to influence people to do more, to do more good. And I can’t challenge anyone to do more if I’m not doing more myself.
When the Parkland situation happened, you saw a bunch of kids that said ‘enough is enough,’ which sparked the entire country. You had adults marching with kids and teachers rallying with students. How often does that happen? So if you can get people to rally together in a time of tragedy, why can’t you get people to rally together to solve problems in other times?
I loved ‘Sanford and Son’ growing up. I loved ‘Good Times’ growing up. And I loved ‘In Living Color.’ All addressed truth with humor.
Regardless of who is in office, I respect the presidency, but I don’t get caught up in that whole ‘Make America Great Again’ thing. For me and many people who look like me, America has not always been a great place — 400 years of slavery, for example.
‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ is probably one of the most eye-opening books I ever read.
My mom said she could find my biological father if I wanted her to find him, but I said no. Knowing what he did to my mom, I don’t know if I could look a man in the eyes and consider him a man after doing what he did.
Outside of spending time with my family, I play Madden online. That’s relaxing to me.
Dave Bautista, a six-time WWE world champion, is one of my really good friends. He talked to me about becoming a WWE superstar, but I wasn’t interested. Then, this one day I was driving around south Tampa to get a pair of dress shoes I had gotten fixed and I noticed the place where Dave told me wrestlers trained and rehabbed. I called Dave on my cell, and I said I was just going to poke my head in the back door and see what it’s about. Two weeks later, I was signed and learning how to become a WWE superstar.
In my opinion, America is not the greatest country in the world. It’s the country with the greatest amount of opportunity. In order for us to be the greatest country in the world, we need to start by being the greatest people in the world.
You can’t tell me that Colin Kaepernick doesn’t deserve an opportunity to play in the NFL.
Traditionally, Coach Spurrier would more heavily recruit quarterbacks and offensive guys than a defensive lineman like me, so the fact that I got a home visit was pretty special. And the fact that I got to play football and wear number 11 at the University of Florida was also special. Coach Spurrier saw something in me, and he allowed me to wear the number he wore when he won the Heisman at UF.
I definitely want to be in Hollywood one day. That’s the hope. I love film. I love entertainment. I love all aspects of it, and I can definitely see myself doing it.
There’s no such thing as a bad kid.
Read more in the March issue.
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