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Q&A: Catching up with Hall of Famer and Redskins legend Darrell Green

Q&A: Catching up with Hall of Famer and Redskins legend Darrell Green

05/03/2019
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Story courtesy of The Athletic

Darrell Green used to go kicking and screaming out the door when his mother told him and his siblings to go out and do community service. Even though his family didn’t have much, his mother impressed upon her son the value of doing nice things for others. Maybe they’re going through a rough patch; maybe they are less fortunate than Green or maybe his act of kindness will be the thing that uplifts them in the midst of an otherwise unfortunate set of circumstances. 

Over time, the reluctance to give his time and energy to others faded and was replaced by not only an understanding of how much his service and acts of kindness mattered, but a desire to go out and do more. That’s what led him to work with Parks and Recreation, founding the Darrell Green Foundation, Strong Youth, Strong Communities (SYSC) and partnering with Centurion, Centene, a health care provider, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After 20 years with Washington and a Hall of Fame career, Green used his celebrity to raise awareness for charity, community service and other humanitarian work. 

And while the Ageless Wonder only cares about how his work is benefitting the communities he’s working with, it also created the opportunity for the 59 year old to call Washington’s third round pick at last weekend’s NFL Draft.  

Green was already scheduled to be in Nashville to visit Riverbend Prison and DeBerry Special Needs Facility in the Riverbend Prison facility and to do a summit with the youth on Saturday at Tennessee State. The former cornerback received a call from Washington brass to see if he’d be interested in calling the team’s Day 2 pick, and Green said he’d be honored. This is his first time calling a draft pick for the team, and it felt like his devotion to community service all these years put him in the position to be in this space. His good deeds clearly haven’t gone unnoticed, he felt. 

The Athletic DC caught up with the two-time Super Bowl champion and George Mason University associate athletic director over the phone to discuss his work in the community and the NFL Draft.

What brought you out to Nashville?

I’ll be in Nashville visiting two prisons and speaking at the Strong Youth, Strong Communities Youth Summit as a part of my work with Centurion, Centene, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Strong Youth, Strong Communities. Me and two other Hall of Famers will be spending a couple days in Nashville doing outreach work and then participating in the summit on Saturday. Our main goal with the service at the prisons is to help these folks prepare for life after incarceration. We want to spend time with them and help their transition from life in prison to society. … For the students, we want to teach them about what their constitutions are. And what that means is coming up with an idea of what actions will take them to the places they want to go with the least amount of pitfalls. We want to open ourselves up to them and answer any questions they may have about how to achieve success in whatever path they’re trying to take. Hopefully, our experiences can kind of serve as a guide for what to do to reach the places in life they want to be. Teaching them about having the right mindset, a strong work ethic, how to identify good mentors, how to manage a tough situation and how to set priorities … And we’re not just coming in and leaving, our website is actually going to be retooled and made to be interactive, so they can always reach us or turn to the website if they have questions or need insight. 

You mentioned Aeneas Williams and Anthony Muñoz as your regular partners, why is that?

Anthony was a little bit ahead of me, and Aeneas, my brother in the defensive backfield, came into the league a little after me. Both are strong family men. They are hard workers. They are committed to using their name recognition for the betterment of others. Individually, we are all doing things in our respective communities. Those two are my go-to whenever I’m doing charitable or service work, and I have empirical data on those two men, because of the work they’ve done in the past, our relationship and seeing personally what they’re about. I don’t have any questions about how serious they take the work that we are doing. But it’s not just us three, we always make sure to reach out to other Hall of Famers when we’re in their hometowns and ask if they’d like to participate. The way I try to manage it, I’m looking for high-level character guys. I try to work with guys who are believable. Who are articulate in the message they’re delivering when they speak to people. … We invited Bruce Matthews, even though he lives in Houston, his affiliation is with this city, (Nashville), a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and so we have invited Bruce to participate with us on the two prison visits, as well as the Strong Youth, Strong Communities outreach. I think that’s going to be very nice.

How exactly will you all execute serving these particular groups in Nashville? What’s the strategy?

What we’ll go in and do is introduce ourselves to each respective group we speak to this week. We’ll talk about ourselves for a little bit. About our paths, journeys and what we’re here to do with them in the time we have. That’s first, but it’s very important for us to also listen. We’re not trying to talk at people, it has to be a two-way street. We have to understand what their needs are in order to better serve them. The thing with service is that one size doesn’t fit all. You have to go in and listen to what people are telling you. Sometimes, we go in and our goal, our task, is to serve food. Other times, it’s life advice. With what we’re doing at the prisons, we’re trying to help these individuals prepare for their reintegration into civilian life. In this case, we’re providing tools and information to help them to that end. When we speak to the youth, we try to discuss with them their constitution, and what that means is setting a framework or pathway that’s going to lead them to success. By creating a constitution, when a kid’s friends come to him and say, ‘Hey, let’s skip school,’ he can say, ‘No. I know that action won’t take me to the places I’m trying to go,’ and so on. It’s a guideline that’ll help them navigate life and the pitfalls that often spring up and take people on a detour from success. 

We always like to have an interaction, what people would typically call a Q&A. We like to have a dialogue where they can extract more out of us, and of course, we can extract more out of them. We try to find the commonalities, as I always say, every person grew up in a neighborhood near you. … This is what I love doing, and I’ve been doing pretty much my whole adult life. 

Why is community service such a big deal for you? How’d you get into it?

As a child, it was forced upon me. Mom said, ‘Go do this nice thing for these people. Go do this; go do that.’ I was crying, kicking and screaming, but (my siblings and I) saw the example that our parents gave. When I became a college student, I did it. Next thing you know, I’m doing it, and I’ve got my own initiatives. When I got to the NFL and Washington, I ended up volunteering with the Department of Parks and Recreations, and doing work with them, which ultimately led to me having a revelation that I could do more if I leave the recreation department and just go on and be Darrell Green, with my influence, my resources and my celebrity and my relationships. Which led to in 1988 founding the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, in 1993, the Youth Life Learning Centers and expanding them … and then five years ago, launching Strong Youth, Strong Communities. But I think it was all birthed with mama just encouraging us as kids to go, even though we didn’t have nothing, to share and to serve and to support people. So it was in my blood and in my experience. I saw it, I observed it, and I experienced it. 

In addition to being Nashville for your service work, you’ll also be calling Washington’s second round pick. How’d that come together?

It came to be just like when I carried the trophy at the Super Bowl two years ago, somebody just called my office and asked me if I would be interested in doing it. Interestingly enough, we were already headed to Nashville to do our work, it just worked out. I can’t take credit for it, they just asked me to do it. I told them it would be a privilege and an honor to do it. I’ve never done it before, and I don’t even know what it all entails. I think it’ll be fun.

This is your first time doing this, what’re you feeling at the moment?

It’s something I’ve never done. Everything that I do now, whether it’s at the Super Bowl, I consider these all extreme honors, extreme privileges, because they could’ve asked a million other people to do it this. … I’m humbled by stuff like this. I don’t expect that. I don’t think, ‘Hey, get me to do it.’ I’m just glad that I have, for lack of a better word, the historic recognition or reputation that is at least worthy, that they’re not afraid of Darrell Green is going to mess up their life. … I’ll be excited, but I’m excited like a kid because I’m honored. … When that’s done, I’ll walk off the stage, I’m nobody. It’s just goodbye and congratulations. I’m not in the process anymore, so it is a privilege, because I’m not in it. I get to be in it for a moment, and deliver the trophy, deliver the name, and I think it’s pretty neat! I think it’s really neat. Some people will say, ‘Who’s that old, bald-head guy up there?’ But my grandkids will say, ‘Hey! There’s pa pops, there’s pa pops.’ … Oh gosh, yes indeed, (my family will be recording it). … It’s always fun for me, because it’s fun for them.

What were your thoughts on Washington’s two first-round picks in quarterback Dwayne Haskins and edge rusher Montez Sweat?

I’m just not watching football everyday. I can’t speak to you about a guy I’ve never seen play. You’ve got to have insight for commentary. … Maybe when the season starts I’ll go to a game, people will be talking and I’ll gain more knowledge. It’s just not how my life goes. I’m at church, I’m at prisons, with the military, with the youth, at George Mason or with my grandchildren.

I met (Haskins) at the DC Touchdown Club last week. He won College Player of the Year, College and I won the Founders Award. I’m the first defensive guy to win. I wanted to meet (Haskins) anyways. I think his mom, dad and sister are great. He’s a great kid, his mom and dad moved him to get into football in the DMV; they moved specifically, so he could get a scholarship and he did. Then he almost went to Maryland and ended up at Ohio State. I heard him doing a radio interview today, and I wanted to talk to him, because I thought he did a great job. I thought the hosts weren’t very genuine and kind of tough on him.  

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