ON APRIL 6, WE JOINED THE WORLD IN CELEBRATING THE UNITED NATION’S INTERNATIONAL DAY OF SPORT FOR DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE (IDSDP) – RECOGNIZING SPORT’S POWER TO DRIVE SOCIAL CHANGE, INCREASE GLOBAL PROSPERITY AND TO FOSTER GREATER UNDERSTANDING.
IN HONOR OF THE DAY, WE CAUGHT UP WITH THINKBEYOND TALENT CLIENT BRIAN DAWKINS, NFL PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMER, RETIRED PHILADELPHIA EAGLES LEGEND AND BEYOND SPORT AMBASSADOR, FOR AN IN-DEPTH CONVERSATION ON THE TRANSFORMATIVE ROLE SPORT PLAYED IN HIS LIFE -- AND HOW IT HELPED FUEL HIS PASSION TO HELP YOUNG PEOPLE AND TO BUILD STRONGER COMMUNITIES. #Sport4GlobalGoals #IDSDP2019 #UseYourPlatform
1. You were raised in Jacksonville, FL where playing sports provided you with a safe haven in a challenging environment. Can you speak on sport as an outlet for you and the skills it helped you develop?
I was a daredevil type of kid – always with broken bones, scraped arms, stitches – and I had anger issues. Having a physical outlet to get rid of some of my energy – positive and negative – was very important. Oftentimes, young people don’t have a way to expend their energy; they don’t have something constructive to do, so they go down bad paths. In my neighborhood, there were many negative things that you could fall into - drugs, violence, fighting. Not a lot is expected from young men growing up where I did, and a lot of gifted young people end up expending their energy in wrong ways. When I got into basketball and then football, I had a year-round outlet to express that energy.
But early on, I almost quit football. My coach positioned me at Center, after having been a Linebacker and Running back the year before, and I hated it. I already had anger issues and my testosterone was flowing. Coach putting me at Center was the icing on the cake. But even though I couldn’t stand it, my dad – a huge role model throughout my life – wouldn’t let me quit, saying if you start playing, then you have to finish. He even talked to my coach! So, I had to swallow my pride and go and do it every day for two years. Looking back, it was to my benefit.
It made me think differently about life and improved my overall game. That position and the offensive line don’t get as much love as other positions. Playing there taught me to respect my teammates and helped me to listen more in the midst of the anger I was going through. It ended up bringing out elements of my character that I didn’t know I had in me.
There’s also the mental aspect of sport that built a drive for mental toughness in me. Through my team, my coach and my dad, I developed a very disciplined approach to life. From getting myself up on time for practice to pushing through on the field when I didn’t feel like it. From working with teammates to learning how to deal with authority and to be coachable. These are skills that I have to this day that all go back to that start. Ultimately, sport broadened my horizons. It allowed me to take ownership of my life and to see the world differently – to see a world beyond just my community.
2. How do you personally think what you’ve learned through sport can be applied to today’s global challenges to foster development and peace?
I think education is the first step to leveling the playing field. Literacy and the tools to be a better version of yourself are extremely important because with them comes confidence and personal growth. That’s what happened to me. Education gave me the tools to be able to communicate in the way I wanted and needed to and sport helped me access higher education. If you talk about fostering peace and understanding, communication is key. The knowledge I gained improved my life, helping me to be able to articulate my emotions and thoughts which led to more constructive thinking and more positive interactions with people.
The next step is opportunity. It’s one thing to teach a kid to do something, but it’s another thing for them to have something to do with what they’ve learned. Without opportunities, frustration sets in. That’s what’s happening in places like Jacksonville. People don’t have the ways and means to better their situations or to see the bigger world outside of their neighborhoods. So, they are using their energy in non-constructive ways – either inward, which affects their health and well-being, or outward which affects their families and communities.
3. What lessons did you learn from sport at your lowest point and how did you apply those learnings to the way you approach life?
I had some really down moments as I was trying to find my way as a rookie, a player and as a person. I went through depression while I was playing. The pressures of life, of being a newlywed, a new father and all of a sudden having money overwhelmed me. I was young and being pulled in many different directions -- family asking for this and that, needing to be there for my wife and son, living up to the big things my team expected from me. Growing up in the type of neighborhood I did, I had always kept the pain inside, not knowing how to express myself or my anger constructively, which ultimately led me to thoughts of suicide. It hit me deep and strong and I went into a tailspin.
I got professional and personal help, deepened my faith and gained the ability to open up. I rigorously applied discipline and structure to my life, got off the medicine I was taking and developed the skills to push down dark thoughts and to control the controllable. We all have physical plateaus, but our brains are always growing and learning. I needed to reset my mind and readjust things in my life. But going through that led me to a better version of myself and gave me something I could share with others through my Better You Challenge.
4. And at your highest?
Being in the NFL was a major high point in my life, allowing me to do things I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do -- to receive accolades and to challenge myself at a high level.
Coming out of my low time, I learned that you can always find light even in the darkest of places. That mentality and knowledge is something I constantly want to bring to other people – to help foster personal strength and development. Those things that are hurting so bad are actually teaching you something so powerful. I learned how far having a certain mentality will get you in life, how to push through the pain and persevere. To be something, to find my faith and to have success, especially in the NFL, was a game changer. And when I got to that level, I wanted to be "a man," blessed to be looking out for other cats - pumping them up while on my journey because I didn’t get there alone. I think you can plug that mentality, that sport toughness, into any type of life.
5. During your 2013 Beyond Sport Summit conversation with Dan Nicholl and Will Greenwood in Philadelphia, you spoke about the moment when you realized that “football could be more than just fun. Football can actually be something quite special for me.” What did you mean by that?
Football brought me so many opportunities to help myself and others; to grow in so many ways. When you’re young you don’t think of those things, but still I somehow knew that sport would provide the opportunity for me to see beyond the north side of Jacksonville.
I knew that I had a gift that could potentially get me to a place where I could support my family financially and bless other people. When I started reflecting, I realized that I wouldn’t have been able to see the things I’ve seen, to meet so many different people or to have the conversations that I’ve had without the game of football.
And it led to the next step in my journey – creating a Foundation (the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation) that will provide inspiration and resources to youth, families and communities in need.
6. Speaking of the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation, how do you want to use what you’ve learned to improve the lives of young people and the communities that are close to your heart?
Not a lot of good things are said about the young men living on the north side of Jacksonville. Many of them are seen as ‘bad’ and not going to amount to anything. Growing up, the ability to articulate myself was not there. The words I used and how I spoke were not polished and my demeanor was a lot angrier due to that environment.
Through sport I was able to see outside of my neighborhood and was supported by people who saw something in me that I didn’t. Something in seed form way back then that just needed nurturing to grow. Starting in Jacksonville, then broadening out to Philadelphia and to Clemson [South Carolina, where Brian went to university], I want to be that for people - especially people who grew up in situations like I did.
As different opportunities for my Foundation present themselves, I want to share them with as many people as I can – young people, young adults, older folks looking for advancement. To be able to impact others’ lives using the knowledge, values and experiences I gained through sport and life is important to me. With the greatest thing being hope; hope is such a powerful tool and so many kids and communities never get it.
7. In line with the IDSDP and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals), the way forward agreed upon by 193 countries in 2015 to end the most pressing global crises by 2030, what do you want to have achieved in the next 11 years?
By 2030, I hope to have built at least five schools and learning centers and have the ability to branch out to other places around the world. Places beyond where I physically played the great game of football. I’d love to have a learning facilities in Canada and work with Beyond Sport on something in the UK. But ultimately, I want to be where ever help is needed the most. Where the Foundation can really impact reading and writing percentages and provide opportunities – to be able to reach and help the most amount of kids starting from a young age.
And if it’s not a school, it’s a learning center with afterschool, weekend and evening programs. Having something like that, something a community can take hold, of leads to growth. It’s a great way for kids and families to build pride in themselves. I don’t want kids being labeled unfairly and written off because of their circumstances and what ‘their records’ say about them. That is a continual travesty.
When you feel like someone genuinely cares for you, wants to give you opportunities and invest in you, that can have huge ripple effects on families and entire communities. Communities will want to strive for the good health, prosperity and betterment of the whole. For current and future generations. I’ve seen the power of hope and opportunity, and that’s what I pray my schools and learning centers will be for thousands of diamonds in the rough!!
Through our sister agencies, thinkBeyond Talent and thinkBeyond , we are partnering with Brian to leverage our in-depth sport for social change knowledge to ensure that the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation achieves maximum sustainable impact.