Reggie White: A Black History Month Profile in Sports
By Marcus Allen
Many professional football fans say that they have watched the greatest football player to play the game. A lot of names get thrown into the air: Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, Barry Sanders, but one name that many football fans agree whose name should be I that argument in Reggie White. White was a very dominant and aggressive football player, but was at the same time a soft-hearted and kind person. He left a legacy that we may never se again. But there is always was beginning to every story.
White was born in Chattanooga, Tenn. He went to college at the University of Tennessee. Tennessee is the place he called home his entire life. When he was a child has was raised by his mother and grandparents. His family was very religious. White and his family attended a local Baptist church on a regular basis. And as a kid, White was inspired by the ministers and teachers he met there. When White was a child he told his mother that he wanted to be a football player and a minister. White went to Howard High School in Chattanooga where he played basketball and football. He became All-American in football and he was All-State in basketball. Even though he was recruited by many big schools he wanted to stay home so he enrolled at the University of Tennessee. Even though he was a dedicated athlete he also spent his Sundays preaching in churches all over the state. His senior year in college he was a consensus All-American and one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, which was given to the best defensive lineman. During his years in college, White was dubbed "minister of defense." The nickname followed him into his professional career.
After White graduated from college, he signed a five year, $4 million contract with the Memphis Showboats. He wanted to show that he could play against the best so he later went to the NFL. He began the 1985 season with the USFL but later signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He joined the Eagles in the middle of the season, missing the first few games but when he finally did start, he had ten tackles and two and a half sacks in his very first game. By season's end he had turned in 13 sacks in 13 games, and won the NFC defensive rookie of the year award.
The people of Philadelphia didn't realize that they were getting two services for one when White signed with the Eagles. He wasn't only a professional athlete but also a minister. White told Sports Illustrated, "I believed that I've been blessed with physical ability in order to gain a platform to preach the gospel. A lot of people look at athletes as role models, and to be successful as an athlete, I've got to do what I do, hard but fair...I try to live a certain way, and maybe that'll have some kind of effect. I think God has allowed me to have an impact on a few people's lives." When White wasn't playing football he spent his free time hours preaching on street corners in Philadelphia's troubled inner-city neighborhoods. He gave money to dozens of Christian outreach organizations and spoke as a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
White was constantly double-teamed, but still he achieved more than 11 sacks each season. In 1986 he was named Pro Bowl MVP after racking up four sacks. IN 1987 he led the league with an NFC-record, 21 sacks.
White joined the Packers for the 1993 season. He played with Green Bay through 1998. During his time there he gained the longest consecutive Pro Bowl selections in history. When the Packers won the world Super Bowl in 1997, White set a Super Bowl record with three sacks. White was named the defensive player of the year for the second time in his career after the 1998 season, and he announced his retirement later in 1999. Green Bay honored White by retiring his jersey. White made a comeback to the NFL in 2000 with the Carolina Panthers. He retired again at the end of the season, leaving behind an NFL record of 198 career sacks after playing 15 seasons. He was voted by the NFL Hall of Fame to the NFL All-time Team in 2000.
After Reggie White retired he still had another career, and that was preaching, which was something he did for the rest of his life. One of the most demanding times in White's career in the ministry was in 1996, when his church was burned to the ground through a hate crime. White hassled investigators to find out who did it and
tried to influence former Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee to speak out against racial violence. White also pursued missionary work for abused children, young women seeking an alternative to abortion, and teenaged gang members. White's life work came to an untimely end on Dec. 26, 2004, when he was rushed to the hospital for what was termed a respiratory illness and soon pronounced dead.
Many tend to agree that Reggie White was one of the greatest football players ever. He also had one thing that is rarely seen with players of his stature and athletic ability: class. White was incredible on the football field, but he was also an incredible human being. In an interview with Philadelphia Daily News, White took a look back at both of his career and said "The Bible says, 'Faith without works in dead.' That is just another way of saying: 'Put your money where your mouth is.'"