THE REAL WORK STARTED AFTER THE GAME
In 2009, Warrick Dunn 13EMBA stepped off the football field for the last time as a player, retiring from a highly decorated 12-year career in the NFL. While there’s no doubt Dunn’s success on the gridiron has earned him a place among the most famous in his sport, his legacy doesn’t solely rest on his passion — and skill — for the game.
ince the earliest days of his professional career, Dunn has put his other passion — helping struggling families — to work impacting lives in communities across the nation.
The Homes for the Holidays program launched in 1997 (now an arm of the Warrick Dunn Foundation) in Tampa, Fla., as a way for Dunn to honor his late mother, Betty Smothers. Smothers, a police officer, was killed during a robbery attempt at her part-time security job.
“My mom’s dream was owning her own home,” Dunn said. “But as a single mother of six kids, it was a struggle for her to save up. She made sacrifices, but there was no way she could support my siblings’ and my dreams without giving up her own.”
Dunn said he started the HFTH program to empower single mothers looking for that cornerstone of the “American Dream.” As of 2017, HFTH and its partners had assisted more than 150 single parents and more than 400 children in Tampa, Baton Rouge, St. Louis, Nashville and Tallahassee. The program helps economically disadvantaged single parents get on the path to financial stability as new homeowners.
The organization provides the down payment on a home selected by a single parent. A partnership with Aaron’s, Inc., contributes furniture to the home which is filled, painted and styled by staff and volunteers. The program also provides appliances, home and garden equipment and, among other things, stocks the kitchen.
“Because I have been able to build a reputation as a talented player,” Dunn said, “I have been able to build futures. Because I am able to play, I am able to make a difference. Because I have been blessed with a talent, I have also been given a responsibility — and I take that responsibility to make a difference seriously.”
Before he retired from the game, Dunn spent a lot of time considering what he would do once his days in the NFL were over.
“I was known as someone who was philanthropic and I wanted to expand on that work, while also remaining involved with the sport I’m so passionate about,” he said.
In 2009, Dunn accepted a role as a limited partner within the Falcons organization, which led to advancing his business skills.
“I started sitting in on owners’ meetings and a lot of what they were talking about was going over my head,” Dunn said. “I realized these guys had been doing this a lot longer than I had and I wanted to educate myself so I could earn their respect.
“Goizueta gave me a foundation. I learned the basics of the language of business, which I’ve been able to apply with the Falcons, as well as to my work with the Warrick Dunn Foundation. But, more than that, I learned how to ask the right questions, how to listen and challenge your thinking, until eventually, you get down to the real issue of any situation.
"I always say I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, I want to surround myself with a team of people who are smarter than I am because these people challenge your perspective and raise you to a new level.”
Renee Tulloch received a home from Dunn’s program in 2002. She told USA Today the home started her life on a new path.
“Had Warrick and the foundation not intervened?” Tulloch said. “I don’t know if I would be as far ahead. You always fight the good fight as a single parent to do what you can. But sometimes your limits are your limits. “That hand up gave me such a catapult.”