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Kurt Warner, NFL Man of the Year 2008  

Do we define heroes and winners by their character or the scoreboard? Kurt Warner sets an example on and off the football field. More....

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DEFINING A HERO: Super Bowl Champion or Voluteer of the Year

Who are your heroes and why?  When asked this question, some choose historical figures like Lincoln, some pick fictional characters such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, some point to family members, and others select athletes. 

Kurt Warner Volunteer. Wikimedia Commons photo
Kurt Warner with Special Olympian Job Kinnaman. Wikimedia Commons photo.

On February 1, 2009, Kurt Warner officially became a football hero when he was named the NFL Man of the Year. Warner was honored for volunteer and charity work in addition to excellence on the football field.  The award emphasizes that character and community service matter as much or more than a paycheck or end zone dance. 

Warner has used his good fortune to positively impact the lives of others. Whenever the Warner’s go out to eat, their children choose one family in the restaurant and anonymously buy them dinner.  The Warner’s spend every Christmas Day with foster children who have no family of their own to share the holidays with.  Kurt has helped build playgrounds and teaches clinics for Special Olympics athletes.  He has raised over $650,000 for Habitat for Humanity.  He has aided flood victims in his home state of Iowa.  The Warner foundation, First Things First, helps thousands of disadvantaged people. The foundation focuses on partnerships, synergy and encouraging non-profit organizations to grow and be more effective.  Kurt has personally contributed more than $1.5 million to First Things First (see www.kurtwarner.org). 

The foundation provides “opportunities to encourage everyone that all things are possible when people seek to put ‘first things first.’”  The foundation also has a goal to help “others who have lost hope in themselves, their talents and life.”  Warner can relate.  His stepson Zachary suffered from blindness and permanent brain damage after being accidentally dropped as an infant by his biological father.  Warner’s career includes a history of being benched, not drafted, injured, released, a stint stocking grocery store shelves at the local Hy-Vee store for $5.50 an hour, and being advised that he needed to get a different dream.  Yet even on second and third string, he continued to work hard, enthusiastically supporting teammates, and mentoring younger players like Eli Manning.

It's true that the middle-aged Cardinals quarterback did not win the 2009 Super Bowl.  (Don’t forget that he has been there, done that, winning Super Bowl XXXIV as a St. Louis Ram.)  But football is not his life. That is not to say that Warner does not take football seriously.  He wants to win.  Teammate Larry Fitzgerald dreads being on the receiving end of a Warner “death stare” if he misses a pass.  Although Warner is quite religious (which he realizes makes some people uncomfortable), he is still human.  His wife Beth confesses that “Kurt is a terrible driver.  He thinks he has to pass every car he can see,” and has had to attend traffic school more than once.  Warner says that “When people look back at my career, I want them to see a fierce competitor, but more importantly, I want to be remembered for my consistency of character and the legacy I hope to leave through my First Things First Foundation.”

Many football fans cheered, screamed, and prayed for Warner and his team on Super Bowl Sunday, and some even cried at his defeat.  More than one professional football player would probably give up an arm or a leg in exchange for a Super Bowl ring.  Warner has a different perspective.  “People think that whatever happens on the football field should define me one way or the other,” he says.  “I want to be defined by what I believe in, by who I am.”  Perhaps we should redefine winners by the way they behave, the legacy they leave, and the real difference they make in the world.




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Last updated October 25, 2016

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