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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Warrick Dunn sends powerful message etched in tragedy, after police killings

Former NFL running back Warrick Dunn speaks at a noon vigil organized by municipal court workers in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, in honor of recent slain and injured sheriff deputies and police. His mother, Baton Rouge police officer Betty Smothers, was killed during a robbery attempt in 1993, when he was 18. Multiple police officers and sheriff deputies were killed and wounded Sunday morning in a shooting near a gas station in Baton Rouge, less than two weeks after a black man was shot and killed by police here, sparking nightly protests across the city. (Associated Press)
By George Diaz Orlando Sentinel

One man cannot change the world. Good. Bad. Mahatma Gandhi had his devoted followers. Adolf Hitler had his henchmen.

Warrick Dunn knows people have his back, too. But significant faces have vanished. His father has been distant, literally and figuratively. His mother, a police officer in Louisiana, was killed in a robbery attempt in 1993 as she drove a grocery store manager to the bank to make a night deposit.

Dunn could have given up right then and become another lost soul. Broken families and gun violence are powerful enemies.

But Dunn chose the good fight. Two days after his 18th birthday, he became the man of the house as the oldest of six siblings. He then honored his mom’s wishes by attending Florida State, where he would quickly become a star running back. He continued to shine in the NFL, playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons. And he continues to honor her in so many ways.

In the middle of a racial divide over the killing of black men, followed by the slaughter of policemen in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Dunn rose up again, giving witness to the man he has become in a powerful blog shared on Facebook.

“We can’t just sit around and talk about how horrible all this is – we have to do something,” he wrote. “And that means it ALWAYS starts with the individual.”

Dunn preached accountability, one of my favorite words. He wrote about “taking the role of fatherhood very seriously so I can raise a son who makes a positive contribution.”

Dunn can look at the man in the mirror and be proud, buying homes for 147 single-parent families through his Atlanta-based charity, “Home for the Holidays.”

He stands proud after starting Warrick Dunn Charities in 2002, using programs and services so that underprivileged children can thrive educationally, socially and economically.

He stands tall for courage in revealing in his autobiography, “Running for My Life,” that he has dealt with depression.

He stands stronger for seeking counseling, and finding strength to sit down with Kevan Brumfield, one of the men who ambushed and killed his mother, meeting with him in 2007 at Angola Prison.

Moments define you. Tragic ones can beget another tragedy. Dunn rejected that trajectory in his life.

Dunn became a man at FSU, doing much more than picking up the intricacies of the playbook. He had help, of course, embraced by a compassionate coach who has been “daddy” to thousands of players.

Bobby Bowden always made it a point not to pick favorites. But he couldn’t help himself with Dunn.

“He was special,” Bowden recalled by phone this weekend. “I felt like he needed me more.”

Bowden made accommodations – from honoring Dunn’s request to get a chance to play running back (he was signed as a cornerback) to rooming him with quarterback Charlie Ward, a star senior, who became like a big brother.

“Anytime Warrick had a problem, he’d come see me,” Bowden said. “He’d tell me about his brothers and sisters. Some of them were not doing like they were supposed to. They were living with their grandmother.

“I’d tell him what I would do, and he’d get in a car and go home (to Baton Rouge), get things straightened out and come back. He was a man really early.”

Life is always evolving. Getting stuck in the past never serves a purpose. Dunn, now 41, has kept evolving, despite the hardships, through all his good deeds.

Another moment came this week when Dunn attended a hearing for Brumfield in Baton Rouge. The court ruled that Brumfield will be re-sentenced to life in prison after determining that Brumfield has an intellectual disability preventing the state from executing him.

“Justice still not served 23yrs later, killer spends life in prison with 3 meals a day and breathes fresh air,” Dunn posted on his Instagram account. “My mother didn’t have the same opportunity. Closing this chapter of my life.”

One chapter ends, but others will be written. Dunn’s perseverance suggests they will be great ones.

It is easy to get caught up in the social-media crossfire of “Black Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” So many people seem intent on picking sides, without much thought to compromise.

I don’t profess to have any magical answers, but I can tell you this unequivocally:

Warrick Dunn has made his life matter.