The playing career of Warrick Dunn matters least of all

by Gary Shelton on April 14, 2017 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Friday, 3 a.m.

The Good Son did it again, Betty.

Once again, he gave someone a hand up. Once again, he gave another family a chance. Once again, he used his life – and yours – to make the lives of others easier.

And bless him for it.

Warrick Dunn ran for almost 11,000 yards in the NFL, but that is only a fraction of his greatness. He got to the end zone 64 times. He caught 510 passes.

And none of it matters compared to the end zone-sized heart of Warrick Dunn, self-admitted Mama's Boy. He has left deep footprints that matter. Has there ever been a ballplayer more worthy of our admiration?

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We have been fortunate in Tampa Bay. We have had the kindness of Lee Roy Selmon and the passion of Derrick Brooks and the compassion of Mike Alstott. We have seen the grace of Tony Dungy and the thoughtfulness of Joe Maddon and the sweetness of Vinny Lecavalier. There have been others, too, who made this community better for entering it.

But there has never been anyone quite like Dunn.

He gives away homes. He gives away fresh starts. He gives away chances.

A few years ago, I was talking to a nephew of mine in Seattle. He was a small boy, and all he really knew about football was that he loved the Atlanta Falcons. Michael Vick was his favorite player. No, I said to him. Not Vick. If you want to admire someone, admire Warrick Dunn.

At the time, I didn't know the half of it.

In the years since, Dunn has given away home after home, 155 of them or so. A half dozen houses or so ago, I was talking to Warrick about his program. At the time, only one home had been repossessed. The rest of the families made good on the chance Dunn had given them.

To those families, it doesn't matter that Dunn was fast, or that he was tough despite his small stature. All that mattered was his heart. Perhaps, it is all that should matter to any of us. By giving these families a downpayment -- and a furnished home -- he is giving them a second chance.

Know this about Dunn. He loved his mother, Betty Smothers, as much as any son. She was a police woman, and while escorting another businesswoman to make a deposit, they two were jumped and killed.

In many ways, Dunn is a man shaped by the violence that came two days after his birthday in 1993. There has been so much responsibility, so much remorse since that night, and for Dunn, the past 24 years have been a quest to separate one from the other.

The reason he raised his siblings, although he was not much older than they were? Because he felt his mother would have wanted it. The reason his foundation has paid the down payment for more than 150 homes for single mothers? To honor his mother. The reason he was so withdrawn, so reticent for so many years? Because he was unable to talk about it.

Then there was the day, 10 years ago, when Dunn went to Angola Prison in Louisiana. He wanted to confront the man who took his jewel of a mother from him.

For more than an hour, Dunn spoke to Kevan Brumfield, one of three men convicted for the shootings. (Another man, Henri Broadway, refused to speak to Dunn, although he had said he would at one point. The getaway driver, Wes Paul, has been released from prison).

"I'm trying to find peace and get to a point in my life where I can move on," Dunn told me at the time. "It's hovered over my life. It's been 14 years. It's been a long, long journey to get to this point. I think it's just where I am in my life. You do reopen doors and wounds and emotions. But I got an opportunity to say some things and express how I felt. I'm happy that I did it.

"We just sat down and talked like two men," Dunn said. "It's hard to describe the emotions. We've all been through things and been hurt. We all could say, 'I wouldn't have been able to do it,' or, 'I wouldn't be strong enough to do it.' But sometimes, you don't know what you can do. That's just human nature. I've had a lot of people tell me, 'I would go crazy. I would lose my mind.' But you don't know what you would do unless you've been in my situation."

Would you have had the strength to do this? The determination to raise five siblings, most of them barely younger than yourself. Would you have the compassion to give homes to strangers?

Brumfield did not admit guilt. That wasn't the point for Dunn.

"I don't hate him anymore," Dunn said. "I've moved on. I'm in a better place."
In life, different men cast different-sized shadows. Dunn's is 10 feet tall. He has made a difference. How many of us can say that? How many men have changed things so dramatically.

Bless you, Warrick.

You've made us all proud.

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