Calvin Johnson retirement

So Long, Calvin Johnson – It’s Been A Great Ride

Calvin Johnson retirement

Training camp 2015.

Calvin Johnson retired today after nine seasons in the NFL. The announcement is bittersweet for me. I still remember the day he was drafted in 2007. I ran to then-GM Matt Millen and asked eagerly, “Are we keeping him?”

Little did I know that Calvin would have a huge impact on me, both personally and professionally. His introverted personality was one that was tough for me — the always-talking extrovert — to crack. I was used to winning people over when I really put my mind to it, but he would prove to be a significant challenge for me.

He wasn’t one to talk to the media — for no reason other than disliking attention — so when I would come calling for the Detroit Lions website, he avoided me like the plague. I remember one interview in particular his rookie year when he answered my questions with his helmet on and one hand on the training room door.

I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, though, and I knew Calvin was a good guy. I finally started to wear him down during the 2009 offseason. The Lions had just hired Jim Schwartz, who opted to retain Shawn Jefferson as the team’s wide receivers coach. I wanted a quote from Calvin on the subject.

One of my co-workers found him in the locker room and told him I was looking for him, which meant Calvin knew he had a limited amount of time to leave the building to avoid running into me. My co-worker told me as much and I rushed downstairs to find him. Imagine my luck — I found him outside the locker room ready to leave the building. When we made eye contact, Calvin immediately looked deflated that he hadn’t managed to get away in time.

I rushed over to him and asked him if he would talk to me for the website.

“How long do you need?” he asked.

“Five minutes,” I replied.

“Well … I can’t,” he said, searching for an excuse. “Gos(der Cherlius) and I are going to eat lunch.”

I looked at my watch.

“You have to rush to get lunch at 10:30 in the morning?”

He was caught. He knew it. He smirked and said, “Okay, fine.”

When the interview was over, I told him with satisfaction we had held it to under three minutes. He smiled and our friendship was forged.

A Record Year

It was truly an honor to experience Calvin’s record-breaking year. I facilitated his blog and enjoyed that he was forced to talk to me every week, a dejected look coming over him upon seeing me approach. He often tried to get out of talking (much like the lunch excuse of 2009), but he always accommodated.

Calvin Johnson retiring

Me capturing this image that circulated after Calvin broke the single-season receiving yards record.

I also enjoyed giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at the team through social media. In 2012, I pioneered taking videos of the team getting on the plane for road trips and on the field postgame. As a result, I was like the Where’s Waldo of Calvin Johnson postgame photos. I may or may not have taken a bit of grief for it.

The 2012 season was unbelievable, though. The team had a down year after making the playoffs in 2011, but Calvin’s quest to break Jerry Rice’s record was incredible. He was at the peak of his career and made acrobatic after acrobatic catch, something wonderful to witness in person.

When he finally broke the record against Atlanta – his hometown team – I remember seeing the smile on his face under his helmet. I was (of course) down on the field at the end of the game and made sure to capture the action with my phone. The photographers may have been a tad annoyed with my amateur self getting in the way, but I didn’t care.

Much to my chagrin, it was my camera phone photo that made SportsCenter that night. During Calvin’s press conference, I was in the wings and snapped a photo of him talking with his proud papa in the background. The photo went viral.

The Final Four

Calvin Johnson retirement

Three years ago in Atlanta for the Final Four.

As awesome as that record-breaking year was, my favorite Calvin experience happened away from football. I was in Atlanta with the Michigan men’s basketball team for the Final Four. I was able to meet up with Calvin the day before the first game and he told me that, if Michigan won, he would take me and my husband (the team SID) out to dinner.

Well, we won. It was one of the greatest sports days of my life and, as a result of making the finals, Calvin took my husband and me out to dinner. We had such a great time.

Calvin and his brother also attended the finals vs. Louisville. That day, though, was the most heartbreaking sports day of my life. I felt like Rosie O’Donnell in A League of Their Own saying, “I thought we had it. I really did.” Losing that game stuck with me for awhile, but that Final Four trip gave me so many wonderful memories that will last forever.

Lasting Impression

I don’t talk to Calvin often, but I talk to him enough. He isn’t a fan of chit chat, but will answer the phone periodically when I call. I have always hoped we would work together after his playing career was over. That remains to be seen, but — at the very least — I know we will always be friends.

I’m glad I can say I know the real Calvin – “C” as his friends and family call him – and the personality behind the visor. Though he has never loved the spotlight, always shying away from the media, he appreciates his fans and the platform he has been given as a professional athlete.

He has an incredible, tight-knit family that raised him right. It’s why he’s always loved football and competing, but values the friendships he made in the game more than anything else. My favorite memories are the years with Shawn Jefferson, Nate Burleson, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, and all of the awesome characters we had. It was so much fun.

In his statement today, Calvin writes, “While I truly respect the significance of this, those who know me best will understand and not be surprised that I choose not to have a press conference for this announcement.”

It’s the right way for him to go out — quietly and away from the spotlight. But even though he isn’t talking publicly, know that he appreciates his coaches, teammates, opponents, and fans, and will certainly miss the game of football. At the same time, I doubt he really grasps the impact he had on the game. His humility just won’t allow him to see the superstar he really is.

please share for dipg

Please Share in the Name of DIPG Research

When we first started planning for the Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge in December, we were excited and driven.

please share for dipg

Our sweet Chad Carr.

Honoring Chad by winning this contest was at the forefront of our minds, and as more and more committed to talking about the need for DIPG research dollars, our team only grew stronger.

We were fueled by educating the masses through telling stories of heartbroken families, explaining the science behind the disease, and shining a light on the lack of funding and medical injustices surrounding DIPG.

Our commanding lead in the contest reflected our daily support. With more than 2,000 people voting and spreading the word, we had no doubt we would win this contest for Chad and the other DIPG families.

Now, though, things are different. The political nature of this contest has taken over and it’s no longer about spreading awareness, it’s about getting votes. Instead of excitement and joy over doing the right thing, we are panicking at the thought of not being able to win this contest for Chad.

please share for dipg

A Clarkston charity basketball game has been just one of many initiatives in the name of ChadTough since this contest began.

That’s really what it’s about, after all. This contest started less than two months after he left this earth, and it became a way to officially honor his memory. If we don’t win this contest, all of the effort, hard work, and dedication will be for naught. Or will it?

Jason and Tammi want to get that national spot on ESPN to tell the world what DIPG is and what needs to happen for treatment options to become a reality. They will do whatever it takes to ensure other families aren’t met with the same dead end they were met with when they were told, “DIPG.”

The truth is, though, we can’t control the outcome of this contest. Perhaps micromanaging the voting is the way to go, but maybe it’s not. All I know is that I felt pure joy when we were spreading the word and raising awareness for DIPG. As sad as these stories are, they are uplifting and amazing and inspiring. Introducing the world to these incredible children and their families is making a difference and we aren’t going to stop just because this contest ends.

Vote Coach Beilein for ChadTough!VOTE: espn.com/infiniti

We are so thankful for Coach Beilein and Kathleen’s unwavering support for ChadTough! Choosing ChadTough for this year’s Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge has raised the volume of DIPG’s voice. Go Blue and vote Coach Beilein and ChadTough every day!

Posted by The ChadTough Foundation on Saturday, February 6, 2016

 

Do we want to win this for Chad? Desperately. We desperately want all of the hard work we have put into promoting this contest to come to fruition in a win. We want Coach Beilein and Kathleen to have a tangible win for all of the sacrifices they have made with their time and effort for the cause. We want the 2,000-plus volunteers to be able to holler and whoop over a win for ChadTough. We want the Michigan State and Ohio State faithful who crossed enemy lines for us to have an award they can hold up high.

But it might not happen.

We have to come to terms with the fact that it may not happen. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay if we don’t win the Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge because we will continue to do all the same things we were doing before. We will continue to fight for DIPG research dollars and awareness.

It’s important to me that we don’t lose sight of what this contest is about: wonderful NCAA men’s basketball coaches selecting charities to represent. Charities doing great things that should be recognized.

Thad Matta – Ronald McDonald House

Ohio State’s Thad Matta is representing the Ronald McDonald House, an organization near and dear to the Carrs. They stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in New York when Chad was going through treatment and have nothing but wonderful things to say about their experience.

These facilities allow families to make a home away from home while their children are being treated in the hospital — something invaluable during very stressful times.

Matt Painter — Smith Family BReaK Thru Fund

Purdue’s Matt Painter is representing the Smith Family BReaK Thru Fund, which supports the Smith family’s efforts toward raising research dollars in the name of their three children: Braden, Riley, and Keaton.

All three children were diagnosed with Riemann-Pick Type C disease (NPC), a neurodegenerative disorder which causes progressive deterioration of the nervous system. Sadly, Braden lost his fight with NPC in 2006 at age 10, while Riley and Keaton continue to fight.

The Smith Family BReaK Thru Fund is dedicated to funding research projects for NPC the way the Carrs are dedicated to funding research projects for DIPG.

Brad Underwood – Nacogdoches Area United Way

Stephen F. Austin’s Brad Underwood is representing the Nacogdoches Area United Way, which serves its community in the areas of education, health and financial stability. Just as the many Ronald McDonald House locations around the country are fantastic in what they do, so are the many United Way locations.

Coach Underwood is not only representing the NAUW in this contest, he offers his time and has been named the 2015 Tim Hayward Volunteer of the Year.

John Beilein – The ChadTough Foundation

please share for dipg

Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Last, but certainly not least, Coach Beilein has done an incredible job representing The ChadTough Foundation, a charity dedicated to raising research dollars and awareness for DIPG. This disease is one that desperately needs a voice.

Parents are delivered the diagnosis and, unfortunately, left flailing. They are tasked with the responsibility of guiding their child’s treatment in a sea of few options. More often than not, the only hope these parents can cling to is one that comes with an experimental clinical trial that puts their child through too many pokes and uncomfortable procedures.

Treatment for DIPG hasn’t changed in more than 40 years and it point-blank isn’t fair. These otherwise perfectly-healthy children are dying because we have no concrete answers.

Thankfully, family foundations throughout the country are helping answers materialize. Research dollars are being raised, tumors are being donated, and progress is happening. The tipping point has been awareness. The more people learn about this horrible disease, the more progress is made.

Please consider sharing this story in the name of DIPG and voting for Coach Beilein. Yes, we are hoping to win this contest for Chad, but even if you simply share this story and make someone aware of DIPG who wasn’t before, we have honored our sweet little boy and all of the other incredible children who fly high with him.

It’s A Cliché World, But Who Takes the Crown?

Clichés. I don’t know if there is anyone who actually enjoys them.

I have had the pleasure of working in both sports and business (sometimes at the same time) and, unfortunately for me, clichés run rampant in both. The phenomenon led me to an important question: which set of clichés is more irritating?

I’ve put the two in a head-to-head battle to find out.

“What’s the ROI” vs. “Their guys get paid, too”

Acronyms drive me insane … probably because I feel stupid when I hear them and have to look them up. This happened to me a lot when business lingo was first introduced at my old place of employment.

Cliche

“I asked for the ROI!”

“Well,” one of my savvy bosses would say, “what’s the ROI on that?”

I would then offer a blank stare and mutter something about having to check. I would go ahead and check alright … I would check what the heck ROI stood for.

Then there’s the sports cliché, “their guys get paid, too.” This cliché is used by a team that is either expecting to be beaten by a far superior opponent or a team that has just been beaten by a far superior opponent. Either way, it is uttered by players as a way to get the media to stop asking why the team lost.

“Their guys get paid, too” equates to, “Dude, did you see those guys? And you’re asking me why we lost?”

WINNER: ROI without a doubt. Hats off to any team that has to remind reporters that the other guys get paid, too.

“Let’s take this offline” vs. “I have to watch the tape”

A statement like, “let’s take this offline” is a fancy way to say, “let’s talk about this later” or “let’s talk about this away from everyone else.” Any fancy, coded statement like that drives me crazy. Period.

Cliche

The press conference in sports: where anything that isn’t a cliché is news for days.

“I have to watch the tape” is usually said by a football coach immediately after a game in reference to a player’s performance. The statement serves two purposes:

  1. It gives the coach a chance to regroup with his PR guy before commenting on a player that totally sucked.
  2. It gives the coach a chance to pinpoint with complete certainty which player sucked so he can regroup with his PR guy to deflect from the guy everyone thinks sucked, and avoid saying the guy who actually sucked, sucked.

WINNER: Taking something offline is not only an irritating code phrase, it violates all that I stand for. Always be online. Always.

“Be a team player” vs. “They’re good despite their record”

That whole “be a team player” thing drives me nuts. No one wants to be a team player if you have to actually tell them to be a team player. If they wanted to be a team player in the first place, you wouldn’t have to tell them to be a team player.

What’s more, I feel like beginning an email with, “Hi team!” is kind of like ending an email with, “Regards.” I think ending an email with, “Regards” is like giving the middle finger. If you start an email with, “Hi team!” you might as well begin with, “Yes, you are all my team and I own you and you better be cheerful about it!”

Saying, “they are a good team despite their record,” or telling the media “not to sleep on so-and-so” is a way to avoid bulletin board material. All a crappy team needs is an opponent telling the media they suck and you end up with David beating Goliath.

WINNER: “Hi team!” drives me nuts. Are we sensing a pattern? Perhaps this is why I transitioned to freelance.

“I have a 2, 4, and a 4:30” vs. “He has an ankle”

Cliches

Tomorrow I have a 3.

One thing I’ve learned about high-powered business people … they like to meet. They meet about meetings. Seriously, it’s a thing.

All of those meetings results in abbreviated run-downs of schedules. Instead of saying, “I am meeting with Sam to talk about our budget at 2,” Mr. CEO would say, “I have a 2.”

The sports equivalent is injuries. Coaches can’t be bothered to actually say the word “injury.” Instead, they simply rattle off body parts, which results in some of the more ridiculous statements you will ever hear.

“Sean has a knee … Tim has an ankle … Joe has a thumb …”

No really, that’s what they say.

WINNER: I’m giving this one to the sporting world.

“Low-hanging fruit” vs. “winning with the guys we have”

Something about the phrase “low-hanging fruit” sends my mind right to the gutter.

“We have to win with the guys we have” is another way of saying, “look … this is as good as we’re going to get, can you stop asking me how we’re going to get better?”

WINNER: Low-hanging fruit … what else is the coach supposed to say?

“build a better mousetrap” vs. “one day at a time”

Mousetrap

Congratulations to anyone who successfully set up and played this game.

Okay, when anyone says they have to, “Build a better mousetrap,” I immediately think of that game we had when we were kids that was more difficult to set up than it was to play. I don’t think I ever actually played the game because it was so difficult to set up.

Putting the phrase in context, though, the whole “mousetrap” thing is just another buzz word that drives me crazy. Just say, “We have to find a better way to draw them in,” or something like that. Right?

When it comes to, “We’re taking it one day at a time,” I’m going to do my friends in the media a favor and decode this one.

When a player or coach says, “We’re taking it one day at a time,” what he or she really means is, “Do you really think I have the mental space to look further than the next 10 minutes? I woke up at the crack of dawn so I could work out, sit in a cold tub, and then sit in a boring classroom for two hours. I’m exhausted, and this team we’re playing is really good despite their record.”

See what I did there?

WINNER: Mousetrap. Obviously.

Well, there you have it. My analysis. To be honest, it’s probably not a fair assessment. You’re talking to someone who has always worked in sports and avoided corporate America like the plague.

By all means, you tell me if I’m off base on any of these and feel free to throw in your own clichés that make your skin crawl!

Brooke Healey

1 Fact About DIPG That Will Spring You to Action

vote ChadTough

Vote each day for Coach Beilein and ChadTough at espn.com/infiniti.

It’s Day 4 of voting for the Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge and it’s already felt like an eternity. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’ve learned an eternity’s worth of life lessons in a short three week’s time.

One of my roles within the challenge is to talk to families who have been impacted by DIPG. Some of these families still have little fighters among them, but most of them have already had to say goodbye. What they all already have in common is that they’ve all endured the news that their child is going to die sooner, not later.

The pieces of their stories are so similar, I can almost close my eyes and envision them. The scary wait for test results. Noticing the doctors can’t look you in the eye. Getting the official diagnosis and the devastating fact that treatment for your child’s disease hasn’t progressed in four decades. Having it sink in that your child has just been delivered a death sentence.

The anger. The loneliness. The isolation.

Jack's Angels

Learn more about Jack’s story at jacksangelsfoundation.com/

One mother described the moments that followed her three-year-old son’s diagnosis so vividly. She took him to a playground outside the hospital to let him run around for a bit. He tried, but the effects of the brain tumor were already setting in. His body wouldn’t do what it was told, resulting in jerky movements that not only prevented his play, it scared the other kids. Her heart broke as she watched her little boy want to be like all the other kids, realizing he would never be like all the other kids again.

It’s hard to imagine the pain.

It’s that pain that places so much importance on this contest, not only for the money that could go toward pediatric brain tumor research, but for the exposure this disease needs. These children don’t have a voice. It’s something I’ve heard Tammi Carr say a number of times, but I’m only just now starting to grasp what that really means.

The thing is, statistics are what is driving research dollars, but statistics don’t tell the whole story. Statistics are not human lives. Statistics are not a parent receiving the news that they will have to watch their child suffer and then succumb to death. Statistics don’t paint the picture of what it feels like to have the whole world move on while you have to watch your child deteriorate and then leave you.

To do nothing as that happens to parent after parent after parent is just not right. It’s time to do something, and taking the time to vote each day for Coach John Beilein and The ChadTough Foundation is a small gesture that could make a big change. Brilliant minds are ready and willing to find this cure, but they need the funds to do so.

In talking with one mother about DIPG and the loss of her son, I asked her what she believed to be the biggest misconception about the disease. I expected her to talk about the benefits a cure would have on pediatric brain tumors and cancers as a whole, negating the belief that researching a rare disease would only help a small number of lives. I expected her to talk about the lack of funds dedicated to childhood cancers, negating the belief that sick children are a top priority in our country.

Brooke Healey

Learn more about Brooke’s story at brookehealey.com

I expected her to talk about brain tumors as the leading cause of cancer deaths among children, negating the belief that this isn’t a huge problem to be addressed.

But she didn’t. What she did say caught me completely off guard. What, I asked, is the biggest misconception the public has about this horrific disease?

“It could never happen to me or my child.”

Think about it. That word – “rare” – can lull you into believing that you and your children are untouchable, but the truth is, you aren’t. It could happen to you. It could happen to your niece, your grandchild, your godson, your friend’s child.

It could happen to any of us.

So, as you read about these children suffering from this “rare” disease, put yourself in the shoes of their parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and muster up the anger you would feel if you were met with the devastating fact that treatment for your child’s disease hasn’t progressed in four decades.

Then set a reminder on your phone and vote each day for Coach Beilein and The ChadTough Foundation. Your vote may end up being a small part of a big change.

Big Ten Rivals Unite Over Chad Carr

I will be the first to admit that college teams hate one another. Real, stupid, ridiculous hatred. It’s silly, really. Schools with this loathing that reaches beyond human decency, all because of football, basketball, or some other sport. I’ve been there.

It wasn’t because of the school I went to. I went to Eastern Michigan University, a school known for its track, swimming, and women’s basketball teams. An opportunity while in college, however, had me volunteering with the University of Michigan softball and basketball teams, and I quickly fell in love with the Maize and Blue.

Marrying the men’s basketball sports information director only furthered that romanticism.

Because of my marriage, I held strong loyalty for Michigan basketball, but was chastised by my colleagues because I never went to the school. Many of those colleagues went to Michigan State, and their rude nature left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I learned to loathe Michigan State because of it, a mindset that has lasted until recently.

Honestly, I never would have thought that perspective could change.

Enter Chad Carr.

Tammi and Chad Carr

The photo that stole my heart.

The little boy who stole my heart. It started with the photo of Chad and his mom, Tammi, that I saw after my husband came home with the news that Chad had been diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. This photo showed Chad looking into the eyes of his momma, and it took me to the many moments I shared with my own two-year-old son. I cried. It hurt.

I then met Chad almost a year later when I helped with his foundation’s 5k in October of 2015 and have since taken on a greater role with his family.

Now the goal is winning $100,000 through University of Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein and the Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge. I truly believe we will win it.

Why?

Because this little boy has united people who previously loathed one another — people who professed hatred for one another simply for the colors they represented. It seems silly, really, in hindsight. That adults would treat each other with such disrespect simply for the team they cheered for.

Said one supporter of The ChadTough Foundation:

My husband, son and I were just sitting in our family room watching ESPN and my husband said, “this is the first time in my entire life that I’ve ever rooted let alone voted for a coach of ‘that team up North.'” He had just finished voting Coach Beilein.

No sooner did those words come out of his mouth, ESPN went to Stuart Scott’s speech at the Espys. This exact line…

“You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”

We just think this is such a true statement and that it perfectly fits Chad and his family. Their journey has taught such valuable lessons…he didn’t need a reminder but he was given anyway. ? Pretty neat!

ChadTough is as cool as the other side of the pillow!!

We all know how much Ohio State and Michigan fans hate one another … yet here is an Ohio State family loving a Michigan family because of a special little boy who has had a power beyond all of our understanding.

Ohio State with ChadTough decal

Ohio State with its ChadTough decal.

There is no point to this story other than to express awe over Chad Carr and the power he has wielded over so many. His sweet face, brave fight, and selfless family have captured America’s hearts. We don’t know how they do it, but they’re showing all of us what it means to live one day at a time and appreciate what we’ve been given.

That, my friends, is why Coach Beilein and The ChadTough Foundation will win the Infiniti Coaches Challenge. Mark my words.

30 for 30: Broke

Being A Public Figure Does Not Equate to Being Rich and Famous

I am not a contributor to WAGS Redefined because I am an NFL wife, fiancée, or girlfriend. I am a contributor to this website because I spent nearly 10 years in the NFL as a digital media manager. I wrote for a living, built relationships with some amazing people, and was around NFL football all the time. I loved my job.

Just like most “average” sports jobs, the pay wasn’t the greatest. Due to the oversupply of professionals who are ready, willing, and able to work in sports, it’s tough to make much money unless you reach executive level.

What the job did provide me was a look into NFL life that the average American doesn’t have, which is why I feel compelled to comment on Diana Holmes‘ recent WAGS Redefined article, Lifestyle Illusions.

Her dialogue ruffled a few feathers over her frustration that she’s frequently asked for free football tickets when she and her husband get a total of two for every home game and zero for every road game. Now, I understand the disconnect here because very few know what it’s like to work in the NFL. It is certainly not the glamorous, ritzy life portrayed on reality TV, and all the players are certainly not rich.

It is here that I’m hoping to bridge the gap between the average American (which I most certainly am) and the average NFL family (which I am most certainly connected with).

Read my full article on WAGS Redefined

Downtown Boxing Gym

Hope for Detroit can be Found at this Growing Boxing Gym

Donate any amount before 8:59 PM ET to help this free program accept more kids!

Ask any American outside of Michigan to describe the City of Detroit and their initial response probably wouldn’t be positive. Their words would probably support the stereotype that Detroit is laced with crime and poverty, and it would be tough to blame them. Most news that comes out of Detroit is negative and the run-down buildings and dangerous areas leave a lasting impression for those just passing through.

Yes, there are numerous projects in motion to bring business into the city such as Hatch Detroit and the Detroit District, but that doesn’t change the culture. True change in a city like Detroit happens away from the spotlight through blood, sweat, and tears through nonprofits like the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program.

Rooted in Fear

Khali Sweeney grew up in Detroit. His parents struggled with addiction, leaving him to be raised by an older couple he now considers his parents. The anger he felt not being part of a “typical” family grew into a chip on his shoulder that distracted him from his education.

By the time he reached the third grade, he lived in fear that he would be exposed for not being able to read or write, and if he ever found himself in a situation that required either skill, he lashed out as a means of distraction.

He carried on that way until his 20s when his brother delivered a wake-up call.

“It took my brother to actually tell me one day,” remembers Khali. “‘Man, do you realize that all your friends are dead or in prison?’”

It was what Khali needed to move out of his current neighborhood in Detroit and turn his life around.

It All Started with Boxing

Khali began teaching his son and his daughter how to box when other kids started coming around to participate.

“I could see myself in a lot of these kids,” he remembers. “I’m like, this dude is acting out in a way that’s familiar to me. So I’d say, ‘Hey, man, can you read that for me right quick?’”

The more he saw of himself in these kids, the more inspired Khali was to push them in the right direction. First it was boxing, then studying, then he noticed the kids were coming to him hungry.

“Any dime I was getting it was costing me because I was getting food for the kids,” he said. “So I took all of the money I had, I borrowed money, and did what I had to do and I set out and got the building.”

An Abandoned Car Wash

The first Downtown Boxing Gym was a 4,000-foot, condemned abandoned car wash that could fit 30 people comfortably. Khali squeezed in 65 or more on a nightly basis, driving the kids from school to the facility every single day for the program he was providing free of charge.

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At the old car wash facility in 2011. (Photo: Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program)

He used boxing as both an incentive and a mask to combat bad influences.

“If you can imagine saying, ‘I just left school, I’m about to go to an after-school reading program,’ your friends are going to laugh at you,” said Khali. “They’re going to talk about you so bad until you’re going to be like, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I ain’t going.’

“But if you say, ‘I’m going to a boxing gym,’ they’re going to be like, ‘Oh yeah, for real? Let me come with you. I want to go, too.’ Now I got you here, you might want to hit the bag. But once you hit the bag I’m gonna tell you … before you hit my bag, you gotta touch those books.”

The List

With a 100-percent high school graduation rate since 2007 and a 98-percent mark of kids who have gone on to college, it’s hard to say anything negative about the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program. But Khali has one sore spot. The waiting list.

Even though the program moved into a large facility thanks to donors such as Madonna, the nonprofit still lacks the funds to bring on the more than 500 kids remaining on the waiting list.

It’s a particularly tough pill to swallow for Khali, who sees this program as a lifeline for kids who have nothing else.

“There’s nothing more serious than saving lives,” he said. “When these kids put their lives in your hands, or mothers or fathers put these kids lives in your hands, this is serious business. It’s nothing to play with.”

The Changed Inspire Change

For the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, the No. 1 priority is the kids, and that kind of selfless giving is what can change the City of Detroit from the inside out.

“I don’t want to make champions,” said Khali, “I want to make good human beings and intelligent people that can do something for the world. Here it is I’m getting the chance to live out my dream which is to give these kids a safe place to go. An alternative to going to the streets.”

You Can Create Change

You can help in Khali’s mission through the Give Detroit Challenge presented by HOUR Detroit. The challenge, which began October 1, is to see which nonprofit in Detroit can raise the most money. The winning group will get an additional $25,000 from challenge sponsors.

As of yesterday (Nov. 10), the Downtown Boxing Gym was $30,000 ahead. Now the gap is closing and it’s up to you to give more kids a safe place to go by donating to the cause and sharing with others. The challenge is in its 11th hour, concluding at 8:59 p.m. ET on November 12.

Let’s all come together and create true change in the City of Detroit.

WAGS Redefined

About NFL Women, For NFL Women, By This NFL Woman

When I worked for the Detroit Lions, I would tell players I was an athlete.

They would respond, “Oh, did you play in college?”

No, professional athlete. No, I did not play in college. I was damn good decent in high school, though, doesn’t that count? I would rattle off a few quality times I clocked in the 800 meter run at the age of 15. That would generate some respect simply because the player I was talking to knew I could probably beat him in the same race. And if by some stretch I couldn’t beat him in the 800, I would at least tout that I could beat him in the mile, for no other reason than no professional football player would be caught dead running a mile at any pace faster than a brisk jog.

Point being, I consider myself an athlete, even if I didn’t play a sport in college. I have always been an athlete. When I stopped playing competitive sports, I started working with some. I was a guest service representative with the Detroit Tigers, a student assistant with the University of Michigan athletic department, and a digital media manager for the Detroit Lions.

Since leaving the Lions, I have represented NFL players in PR, but had resigned myself to never writing about the sport again. Why? Because I’ve never been one to rip players and coaches in print, so there doesn’t seem to be a place for me aside from with a team.

Enter WAGS Redefined.

How awesome is it that I was looking for freelance writing opportunities and stumbled across this one? LeShonda Martin, wife of NFL veteran Sherrod Martin, was looking for contributors to her site. She specifically wanted someone to write about women and families of the NFL. I don’t know that I could have found a more perfect match.

When WAGS Redefined creator LeShonda Martin Googled “NFL wives” in July of 2015, she did it with the intent of finding an organization of wives to connect with. To her dismay, not only did she NOT find a group for wives, but the only results were articles of someone’s opinion on the hottest and prettiest wives and girlfriends of the league. In fact, the number one result on Google was “28 Hottest Wives of the NFL” and there were dozens more with similar titles. This was discouraging to Martin, and she sought out to make a change within her community. Knowing that her husband was against reality television, she decided to use writing to get her point across. Thus, WAGS Redefined was born. Martin desires for WAGSRedefined.com to be the #1 search result for all things NFL women.

As someone who was part of the NFL for nearly 10 years, I understand stereotypes placed on women in athletics. When I would travel with the Lions, I was often referred to as a cheerleader despite carrying my computer bag (the team has also never had cheerleaders), and would be stopped in special access areas despite visibly wearing proper credentials. Once I was asked if I was the team massage therapist. Yeah, I know.

So I was elated to have come across this faith-based project meant to act as a voice for “women of America’s gridiron stars.” Though I’ve never been married to an NFL player, I understand how NFL life works behind the scenes and what women in the NFL go through.

I’m so excited to contribute to the “Around the NFL” section amidst stories about community service, spirituality, career and business, health and wellness, and more!

 

Ryan and Mary Beth Broyles Guests on Fox Business Varney & Co.

The minimum salary for an NFL player in 2014 was $420,000. While this may seem like a lot, the average length of an NFL career is just 3.3 years. Compare that to the $1.8 million college graduates make over a lifetime and it’s clear the run-of-the-mill professional football player isn’t much better off than you or I over the long haul … unless he is smart with his money.

That is what makes former Detroit Lions wide receiver Ryan Broyles such an enigma. Living on a budget of $60,000 per year, he and his wife invested their money and continue to live frugally, turning a few years playing football into potential for lifetime financial stability.

“I feel like I’m a savvy guy,” Broyles told Fox Business. “I’m excited for the future.”

Since signing with the Lions as a second-round draft choice out of Oklahoma in 2012, Broyles has invested in stocks and real estate while pinching. Today he has $1 million stashed away and continues to live a modest lifestyle.

“When I was a rookie in 2012, we went to the Rookie Symposium,” he said. “One of the biggest things that I took heed to was the finance world, talking about 78-percent of athletes go bankrupt three years after they leave the NFL. I was like, ‘That’s not going to be me.’”

Broyles looked up ways to invest his paycheck and took budgeting seriously. It’s an approach not taken by many NFL players, but is one that can be taught and duplicated. If players looked at their initial contract and guaranteed money as a seed to plant for the future, more could dictate their lives after football without having to worry about dollars and cents.

“I think I’m to the point where I get more satisfaction knowing I can get something and then not getting it,” said Broyles. “I’m looking at the long-term.”

While Broyles earned his money in an occupation not many are employed in, his budgeting and investment tips can be applied to anyone. Follow him on LinkedIn to learn more.