Our Beyond the Athlete feature focuses on a great athlete that has been on the cover of fitness magazines, been all over the media hosting radio and TV shows, a Super Bowl champion and runs great foundation that gives back to the community.
Did I mention he was a punter in the NFL? Former New York Giant Steve Weatherford is the perfect example of an athlete building their brand while still being active in the game. With his release from football earlier in the year, Steve is now an active member of the media hosting on weekends with ESPN NY as well as being very active in the community with his charitable foundation.
Randy Zellea of Back Sports Page was able to sit down with Steve to discuss his foundation, joining the media, his career in the NFL, life as a punter in the NFL, life after football and his upcoming projects.
Can you talk about the responsibilities of a pro athlete and giving back to the community.
In my personal experience, becoming a professional athlete and competing at the NFL level has helped provide me with the ability to help those who are less fortunate and has allowed me to help in giving back to the community. I am truly so blessed to be where I am today and I cannot believe that football has provided myself with a platform where I can affect change in the community and have a positive impact on people’s lives. When I first entered the league, my only concern was being the best possible version of myself on the field. However, after a few seasons I began to realize that I wanted to be the best possible version of myself off the field as well. I recognized that as a professional athlete, that I had become a role model and I had a responsibility to give back to the same communities that had given so much to myself during my journey to the NFL. Also, I can personally identify with people who are struggling, as I grew up with many children and families in Terra Haute, Indiana who faced the same struggles that many people deal with every day. I believe that this is the reason behind why I feel so compelled to help out in the community and why I feel that being a professional athlete requires that I give back.
How did you decide your focus for giving back with the Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation?
The groundwork behind the Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation actually began before the foundation was ever created. I had already been doing philanthropic work long before the World Champion Foundation was ever created. However, I felt that I could increase my ability to give back to the community if I were able to create a more focused and organized approach towards conducting my charitable work. So when I was deciding what the focus of my foundation was going to be, I tried to think about what I was really passionate about. The two answers that immediately came to mind, were fitness and family. With this in mind, I created the Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation and focused my efforts on trying to make physical fitness an integral part of every child’s life, as well as help in the process of bringing families together.
When did you establish your foundation?
The Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation was formalized as a charitable organization with national reach on September 13, 2014. But long before that, we created the foundation in my home town of Terre Haute, Indiana where we have been running charitable events for the kids there for quite some time. I never forget where I came from and I always want to give back to my home town in a special way. I am truly proud of our humble beginnings and all that we have accomplished and the funds we have been able to raise in such a short period of time.
Can you discuss the steps of establishing the foundation and how many people work with you?
As I mentioned before, the groundwork behind The Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation had already been in place before the foundation was ever created. Still, that is not to say that it has been an easy process. The creation of the Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation was a long process and a process in which I did not want to rush and mess up. So my team and I carefully took our time making sure that the goals and functions of the foundation were exactly what I envisioned and wanted to pursue. My passions are family and fitness. And we have tried to focus all of our efforts in those areas – particularly with other charities that help children live healthier lives.
What kind of events and fundraisers does the foundation run?
Currently there are a wide range of different programs and fundraisers thatthe Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation runs. Not only do I serve as a spokesperson for various charities such as Second Chance Toys, Rush the Punter, Kicks for Kids, the Boys and Girls Club in New Jersey, and Breast Cancer Research Foundation, but I am also the founder of Project Prom. Each program’s goals are consistent with the mission of the Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation and provide tools and resources that are necessary in increasing physical fitness among children and bringing families together.
Now that you are more involved with the media how much time would you be dedicating to giving back?
Even though my involvement with the media has begun to increase over the past year, my focus on my charitable work will not change. During my professional career I always put the time and effort into making sure that the foundation and my philanthropic work remained as one of my top priorities no matter how busy or time consuming my career as a punter in NFL became. Now that I am beginning to transition and become more involved with the media, I see no reason as to why that should change. I can promise that my dedication to giving back to the community and philanthropic work will not change no matter what endeavors in life I choose to pursue.
Can you discuss some of your favorite events and moments giving back with both as a member of the NFL and through your foundation?
Project Prom is probably the one initiative of the Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation that I am most proud of. Project Prom was originally created following the devastation many New Jersey communities experienced following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Recognizing that many communities had fallen on hard times following the storm, I thought it would be a really great idea if I could provide an all-expense-paid-for senior prom experience for high school seniors who had been impacted by the storm. So for the past two years, I have provided the transportation, tuxes, and dresses for a select few high school seniors who had been nominated by their peers. I am proud that through Project Prom, I am able to help provide experiences that every kid graduating from high should be able to enjoy and provide memories that last a lifetime.
You were also a date for a local prom, how was that experience?
I loved it. I think prom is such a special moment in a teenager’s childhood and even as a 32 year-old man, I still get excited throwing on a tux and going to the prom. This past year, I took Vicki Serrano, a graduating senior at Dickinson High School in Jersey City, to the prom. I do not know if I came on a little strong picking her up in yellow Lamborghini convertible, but I just wanted to give her the most memorable prom experience possible. We had a nice conversation about her future plans as she enters college and once we arrived at the venue of the prom, it was nothing but a fun from there on out. I got to dance and party with the seniors of Dickinson High School and made a speech to the seniors about pursuing their dreams. Hopefully they had as fun and as memorable of a night as I had myself.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave off the field in the community?
I have always told my friends and family that I would rather be remembered and known for the things I did off the field, as opposed to the things I have accomplished on the field. Hopefully I have been successful in accomplishing this as I have put a lot of time and effort into giving back to the community. If I could choose what kind of legacy I will leave behind and what others will say about me, I would hope that people would say that Steve Weatherford was a great punter on the field, but an even better man off of it.
Does your family partake in the charity work and your events?
Absolutely. My family recognizes how important and how passionate I am about my charitable work and they have supported my philanthropic pursuits since day one. My wife Laura was actually the first person I confided in when I was first thinking about branching out beyond the game of football and pursuing my passion to help out in the community. I am so blessed to have such an amazing wife and four beautiful children who not only have supported me unconditionally in my professional career, but have actively participated in some of the charitable events hosted by my foundation. It is an amazing feeling to see my family actively participate in the process of helping out those in need.
What are some of the positive ways you use social media?
For anyone who knows or follows me, they probably know that my involvement with social media is bordering on addiction. But in all seriousness, social media has provided me with yet another tool in which I have been able to expand my platform and give back to the community. The ability that social media has provided me to reach my fans and interact with the public has only helped increase my ability to positively impact the community. For example, this past year’s Project Prom took advantage of both Twitter and Instagram as I was able to provide information regarding this year’s campaign and I was able to interact with this year’s winners via both social media platforms.
How do you feel punters and kickers were perceived both in the NFL and College?
I am really glad you asked this question. There seems to be this misperception out there that punters and kickers are not real football players because we don’t get hit or do the hitting. To counter that perception I would ask what quarterback in the NFL is tackling anyone? The fact that both kickers and punters play positions that are centered around skill as opposed to brute strength and speed, does not mitigate their importance to the team. With football being the ultimate game of inches, both punting and kicking can be the difference between a win and a loss. While many NFL players respect us as athletes and are aware of the importance that kickers and punters have on the outcome of games, I think the public is still lagging behind in regards to the perception of kickers and punters in the NFL. Hopefully that can begin to change and some of the great punters and kickers in the league can begin receiving the appreciation from the fans that they disserve.
What were some of your highlights in college?
I have so many great memories and highlights from my time at the University of Illinois. Breaking the school record and being the school’s all time leader in career punting average was a tremendous achievement that I am very proud of. I am also very proud of the fact that Sport’s Illustrated named me the most underrated player in the Big Ten Football Conference in 2004. However, the biggest highlight from my time in college was meeting my future wife, Laura. It is still unbelievable to me that my wife has put up with all the craziness and has stood by my side since the beginning of career in football, but she has. Without her none of my accomplishments in the NFL would have been possible and I am truly blessed to have met her while I was a student at the University of Illinois.
Can you describe your path to the NFL. Both the highs and lows.
High and low is the perfect way to describe my path to the NFL. As I touched upon before, I had a lot of success on the football field during my time at the University of Illinois. When I left, I was the school’s all time leader in career punting average and had earned first-team All-Big Ten honors by the coaches and second-team honors from the media. However, despite my success on the field I was extremely disappointed when I wasn’t drafted by a NFL team in the 2006 draft. I had been so sure that my production on the field in college would have earned myself a spot on a NFL team’s roster and was shocked when I was not drafted. Needless to say, this was a very difficult moment to deal with in my life. However, when the New Orleans Saints called and offered me an opportunity to become a part of their team and compete at the NFL level, I was overjoyed. I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason and looking back retrospectively, my path to the NFL happened exactly as it was supposed to.
There are so many different highlight from my career that it is hard to select just one. From getting the call from the New Orleans Saints informing me that I had an opportunity to play in the NFL, to eventually ending up playing professionally in the great city of New York, I have so many great memories from playing in the NFL that will last a lifetime. But in terms of the greatest highlight of my entire career, I would have to say winning Super Bowl XLVI is number one. I will never forget running out onto that field and celebrating with my teammates after having defeated Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. After having fought in the trenches all season long with 53 other guys, the feeling of becoming a world champion is indescribable. Winning the Super Bowl is a moment in time that I will never forget and something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
What were some of the challenges of being an NFL player and having a high profile name?
I would say that the biggest challenge of being an NFL player and having a high profile is just trying to stay focused on the challenge in front of you. In my experience, there were always different endeavors and distractions off the field that could potentially distract you from the goal at hand. That includes questions and pressure from the media regarding the team and your personal performance. Just focusing and not letting the noise from outside the locker room distract you was always the most difficult challenge I found that came with playing in the NFL.
How has your success in the fitness world changed your plans for the future?
My success in the fitness world has not changed my plans for the future because I have always felt that my participation in the fitness world would be something that I would pursue in my career. Ever since deciding to make fitness a priority in my life following my freshman year in high school, I knew that I would have an active role in health and fitness beyond just being a professional athlete. When Muscle and Fitness Magazine named me the NFL’s fittest man, that just represented a culmination of a lifetime of hard work and dedication to health and fitness and to being the best possible version of myself that I could be. Hopefully, I can continue to spread my message on the importance of health and fitness to the public going forward and look to continue my growth as a fitness expert.
Recently you have worked with ESPN NY and been involved with the Media. Has your perception changed now that you are on the other side?
My experiences working with ESPN New York as a broadcaster has allowed me to really appreciate how difficult a job the media has in covering professional sports. I think that as a professional athlete you just assume that all reporters do is ask questions and write stories. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is a lot of research, time, and effort that goes in to writing a sports story or conducting a sports radio broadcast. Right now I am just trying to absorb as much information and tips about the field as humanely possible. Lucky for me, the people over at ESPN have been nothing short of great and have been more than willing to help me in the process of learning how to become a member of the media.
What has been some of your favorite non football projects you have been involved with?
Aside from my involvement with the foundation and with ESPN New York, I have a few fitness projects that my team and I have been working on. I am currently working with many fitness and health companies such as True Grit, Skins, Compex, P28 Foods and Elite Lifestyle Cuisine. I have waited a long time to find a supplement line that I am proud to be associated with like True Grit. The line is backed by a tremendous amount of research and development. Skins is the best line of compression gear on the market and I wear it every day that I train. I love what Compex Electrical Muscle Stimulation does for my training regimen. It helps to physically prepare me before so that my muscles recover faster and I experience less pain and fatigue in the weight room. P28 foods manufactures a line of healthy, high protein breads and spreads. What I love about P28 is not only do I love it but so does my whole family. Finally, my involvement with Elite Lifestyle Cuisine is to help provide a source of healthy gourmet food that delivers chef-prepared meals right to anyone’s door.
What are some of your future projects?
Well to be completely honest, along with the many different business ventures that I am currently involved with, my wife just gave birth to our fourth child together. Our daughter Josie is quite the handful and I just want to spend as much free time as possible with her. Right now I am just focusing on spending time with my family and trying to be the best husband and father that I can possibly be.
For more information on Steve’s foundation visit his website: http://www.weatherford5.com/
Follow him on Twitter: @Weatherford5