Former NFL Cornerback Reggie Howard
He overcame astounding odds to reach the NFL despite a horrifying injury – but then left it all to pursue his true calling, teaching others to give
If you were to overhear former NFL cornerback Reggie Howard talking about his calling, you might assume he was referring to football. But Reggie’s true passion isn’t his sport; it’s his philanthropy. In 2005 he started the Reggie Howard Foundation, now called the United Athletes Foundation (UAF) (www.unitedathletesfoundation.org), an organization committed to aiding and uniting professional athletes who want to leverage their power and visibility to help the world.
Since it began, one particular area of interest within UAF has been financial literacy. The second major area of focus for UAF, children’s welfare, took hold, when Reggie shared the shock of millions of other Americans over the story of a despondent young New York mother who intentionally drove her minivan into the Hudson River. Tragically, the mother and three younger children drowned; Lashaun, then age 10, fought his way out of the water and survived. Within days of the tragedy, Reggie traveled to Lashaun’s grandmother’s home to meet the boy and express to him and his grandmother how much he wanted to help.
Lashaun became an image that would inspire Reggie and his colleagues to make the world a better place for its youngest citizens. UAF reached out to St. Jude’s Hospital, which provides free cancer care to children; and the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program, which bestows higher education scholarships onto impoverished American children.
Philanthropy is something he learned from his mother. Not the act of giving money – as a single mother of three working for the post office she had nothing extra to contribute – but the spirit behind it. “She would always say, ‘Once you’re blessed with something, you need to start giving that back. It’s not yours to keep to yourself.’”
Though ultimately successful, Reggie’s path to the NFL was not without its obstacles. As a senior at the University of Memphis – his hometown – he broke his neck while making a tackle. Reggie was flown home to Memphis and had surgery the next day. On the flight back from Alabama, strapped to a stretcher and wracked with pain, he prayed. “I said, ‘God, if you give me another opportunity, I’ll use it for a greater purpose. I’ll use it for something more important than just playing football.’”
Mercifully, there was no neurological damage, and the surgery repaired his damaged fifth and sixth vertebrae. Later, his doctor would tell him that other doctors who saw the x-rays expressed amazement that Reggie was still alive.
Reggie not only survived the accident but recovered well from the surgery. He trained hard and regained the weight lost during recuperation in time to show up at the NFL Combine, an annual event at which college players are put through drills that display their talent. So impressed was the football world by his recovery that he soon received a call from the Carolina Panthers.
He played for that team for three years, including a trip to the Super Bowl (which they lost to the Patriots), and later played for the Miami Dolphins. But hitting the big time turned out to have a dark side as well. “After two years with Miami, I found myself thinking, ‘Is this it? This is what having money is all about?’ All I could see were people trying to take advantage of me, trying to get access to things, and I actually started to lose interest in the game as a result.”
It was then that Reggie remembered the promise he had made on the stretcher as he was flown to Memphis for neck surgery. “I came back and said, ‘You know what? I want to be a giver.’ I always loved giving. I wanted to be the best at it, and I wanted to show others how to give.”
At the age of 29, Reggie decided to retire. Leaving mid-season is an unusual move for a player, he concedes, but it was a matter of following his heart, honoring his values and trusting his intuition. He reimbursed his team for his bonus money and announced that he was changing his focus to his family, his community, and his foundation, which would eventually come to be known as the United Athletes Foundation, based in Atlanta.
Reggie has never forgotten the men who inspired and motivated him throughout his life’s journey – men such as Panthers coach John Fox, Former Pittsburgh Stealers Player and Panthers Director of Player Development Donny Shell, and Reggie’s coach at Fairley High School in Memphis, Manny Lowery. Today, Reggie is a married father of three who is passionate about the importance of teaching community service to young people.
Among the most prominent initiatives that UAF is promoting is its coin fundraiser, through which it is selling commemorative coins to further its mission (www.uafcoins.org). Reggie is also working with his member athletes to increase their visibility and that of their outreach. And he himself has engaged in new charitable efforts including a trip to Haiti in 2010 to assist with post-earthquake clean-up.
“When you go over there, you see how people are living and yet they still go around smiling,” he said. “It’s a reminder to take every day as a blessing. Some people don’t have their health, some people don’t have food … people deal with all kinds of problems, and it is so important to count your blessings, rather than counting the negatives in your life.”
UAF is currently focused on the revitalizing neighborhoods by rebuilding homes and helping low income families manage their finances.
In partnership with Baker Tilly, UAF is seeking homes to purchase and renovate in an effort to revitalize neighborhoods by providing affordable housing. In addition, CESI (Consumer Education services, Inc) delivers financial literacy to individuals/families though its Pathways to Home ownership program.
With his steadfast sense of faith and his unwavering commitment to community service, Reggie Howard is the kind of Insightful Player® team member who exemplifies the idea that the influence of an athlete reaches infinitely far beyond the playing field.
Instant replay of Reggie’s guiding principles:
Always keep your faith in God as your preeminent guiding principle and the foundation for your actions.
Teach young people about the value of community service as early as possible. Demonstrate it yourself, and facilitate opportunities for them to be part of a community service program.
Make it a frequent and regular practice to count your blessings, and always keep your focus on what you do have rather than what you do not have.
Believe in yourself and your ability to influence the young people who look up to you.
Remember that everyone has specific talents, attributes and strengths. Make it your job to identify what they are in others and draw them out.
Work hard. Put 110% effort into everything you do. By always putting forth your best effort, you can always look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I gave it everything I have, regardless of the results.”
Even when your own results seem meager, keep trying, because there may be someone looking up to you and being positively influenced by your actions.
Always count among your top priorities faith, family and community, in that order. Everything else comes after those three.
The Insightful Player® series is brought to you by Coach Chrissy Carew, Hall of Fame Master Certified Personal and Business Coach and Author of her newly released book, INSIGHTFUL PLAYER: Football Pros Lead A Bold Movement of Hope. Chrissy has been deeply inspired by her father, the late Coach Walter Carew, Sr. Her father is in several Halls of Fame as a high school football coach and baseball coach (as well as high school and college athlete). He used sports to help kids build strong character and teach them valuable life skills. The Insightful Player® initiative was created to help make our world a much better place by inspiring youth. To contact Chrissy Carew visit http://www.insightfulplayer.com or call 603-897-0610.
©2012 Insightful Player, LLC
Reggie Howard is a valued member of the Insightful Player® team. To be named to this team, one must be a person of integrity, such as a current or former NFL player, who shares their personal message of hope for the sole purpose of lifting the spirits of all, especially children.