Right in my backyard, in the city of Atlanta, we saw 9 shootings that left 6 dead and 15 wounded over Labor Day weekend.
96 Georgia teens and children have now died as a result of gun violence in 2023. This is a sobering number. We cannot ignore the serious problem facing our society today — not a problem with guns but rather a problem with culture. This amount of violence is heartbreaking, and I personally can’t stand by and watch my community destroy itself.
Years ago, I wasn’t much different than the young men getting caught up in these shootings. I was trapped in a life of crime and felt like everyone had given up on me. I walked the halls of my college alone. Head down and with no friends after I had been kicked off the football team.
I was in and out of jail between 15 and 19 years old. I was ashamed of the mistakes I had made and desperately wanted to do better, but I just kept falling into the trap that was my old mentality. When you are the guy who has been in and out of jail, people aren’t exactly lining up to be your friend.
Then one day when I was walking down the halls, a woman who was working as a janitor stopped me. She said she saw a light shining over me. I thought she was crazy, but she took me in, mentored me, and helped me live my life as a man of God.
That small gesture was a turning point that inspired a change in my decision-making and attitude.
Today I’m a former NFL football player, author and motivational speaker. I am happily married and a father to five beautiful children, and I have been honored with two Presidential Lifetime Achievement Awards. All of these blessings have come to me despite multiple instances when I was close to spending my life in prison.
None of this would have been possible without a strong mentor and someone who encouraged me to take responsibility for my actions. For me, that woman was my school janitor. She stepped in, said she saw a light in me, and became the role model I needed.
Just as there was still hope for me, there is still hope for thousands of young men who are caught up in a life of crime when they could be living a life of purpose.
American athletes like myself have a huge platform to elevate the importance of hard work and responsibility and help change this culture. We need athletes to step up and lead this cultural revolution by being good role models. You cannot change culture with policy, but policy change is often driven by culture.
We see results when the two “p’s”— programs and policies — come together. Programs get at the core of culture and work to change the hearts and minds of individuals. And polices ensure that once people have changed their hearts and minds, they can succeed. There are many instances when policy has changed but the culture has not, and that is when we do not see the desired results.
When we have a culture and public policies that align, we can help ensure our youth have the resources they need to be successful. More youth will also realize they have the second chances they need when they deviate, and we will then see a revival of our communities.
America’s youth are on the line, and I call on American athletes to be the janitor so many of them need.
Frank D. Murphy, former NFL player, honoree of two Presidential Lifetime Achievement Awards and the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero Award, Author, and member of the Athletes for America Coalition at the America First Policy Institute.
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