Losing your mom has to be hard, especially while in high school, leaving you solely responsible for five siblings. This tragic beginning was the reality for Warrick Dunn, who lost his mother when he was a senior in high school.
Corporal Betty Smothers was a Baton Rouge police officer who was shot and killed in an ambush while working as a security guard in January 1993. Three suspects opened fire at Corporal Smothers as she and a bank manager made a nightly deposit. The three suspects were sentenced and put to death for the crime.
Due to the loss of his mother, Warrick Dunn faced huge expectations and obstacles. As a Black man in New Orleans where the culture of crime and gang activity in poorer neighborhoods is more pronounced, the expectations for Dunn couldn’t have been higher.
Instead of succumbing to “the streets” as a senior, he was an All-American honorable mention in 1993. Dunn worked hard to get into college and attended Florida State University, where he rushed 1,000 yards over three consecutive seasons. In 1997, he graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in information studies.
Dunn was also a track and field star and member of the men’s 4x100-meter sprint relay team with a personal best of 10.3 seconds. He was selected in the 1997 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Warrick Dunn went on to play with the Buccaneers for two seasons and one season with the Atlanta Falcons from 2002 to 2008. In 2019, he became a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. His last stint with the Buccaneers was from 2008-09, and he retired from the NFL in 2009 as 14th All-Time in All-Purpose yards and 19th in rushing yards.
Dunn is more than just a former football player who overcame adversity amid terrible circumstances. Warrick Dunn is also a philanthropist.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Dunn challenged all NFL players except the New Orleans Saints to donate $5,000 to help rebuild the city. He received over $5 million in contributions and was awarded — by former President Bill Clinton — the Giant Steps Award in Civic Leadership.
Before he was drafted to the NFL, Dunn established the Homes for the Holidays program (HFTH), which is an organization that gives families down payment assistance and gifts them complete home furnishings. This organization, which was founded in honor of Corporal Smothers, is partnered with Habitat for Humanity.
Since 1997, HFTH has furnished 200 homes, served 26 markets and given more than $990,000 in down payment assistance.
Dunn also co-founded Athletes for Hope, which is an organization that helps other athletes get involved with charitable causes and organizations.
Warrick Dunn is an example of the kind of person we should all strive to be, especially when we “make it.” I can only hope to be even a little bit as good to others as Dunn has been.