The Hero of ‘Muck City’

Posted at 8:28 am on 02/15/2016 by Buddy Martin
The other day a friend of mine messaged me to complain that I was too blinded by my SEC bias as seen through my orange and blue glasses. He went on to point out that guys like me were missing the real story about something good coming about the NFL and college football.

Good? The NFL? College football? Other Alabama’s dominance and  Peyton Manning’s John Wayne Super Bowl Walkoff, what could be so good?

Besides, we in the media would prefer to sock our readers/listeners/viewers upside the head with stories like Cam Newton’s post-game petulance, John Manziel’s Bad Boy antics or maybe the grim news about the seeming epidemic of concussion-related CTE brain disease. Or talk about those sad stories of squandered youth and fortune.

Or maybe we could harp on ESPN’s Outside the Lines expose’ about Florida and Florida State’s programs leading the nation in most athletes named as criminal suspects.

Today, we media types are addicted to “hits” and “clicks” in the bizarre world of the Internet, where normal is too boring. We can’t be bothered with good stories about good people.

And what are we missing that’s so good about college and pro football? Well, let me bore you with a story.

“Florida State,” wrote my diehard Seminole friend, “has won three ‘Paytons’, second to Notre Dame for the most in the country.”

Paytons? I didn’t know there was an award named after the Broncos quarterback and, besides, he doesn’t spell it with an “a.” 

Then I realized he didn’t mean “Peyton,” but “Payton.” As in the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award won Anquan Boldin, the third Seminole to be so awarded. The other two were Brooks and Dunn — no, not the one-time country music duo. Derrick Brooks and Warwick Dunn. 

Notre Dame has the most “Paytons”: Jerome Bettis, Jim Flanigan, Dave Duerson and Joe Theisman.

That inspired me to dig a little deeper into Boldin’s profile. My memory of him was as a prized quarterback recruit from Pahokee signed by Florida State and converted to wide receiver, going to play impressively with Baltimore, Arizona and San Francisco.

That, however, doesn't begin to tell the story of Anquan Boldin’s good works. 

There is neither time or space to do him justice here. Suffice to say he has been even more impressive off the field as a mentor, philanthropist and champion of education.  

From his origins in “Muck City,” which is a distinction worn with pride, Boldin came up out of the black dirt where he was surrounded by poverty to achieve success that is reflected in his character, generosity and commitment.

Sometimes he still wears a tee-shirt bearing the words: “Muck City vs. Everybody.” It’s an attitude that the Children of the Muck adopt in their pursuit of football as a way out of poverty and squalor.

In an article he wrote for “Players Point of View,” Boldin explained the hard life in the black dirt:

“The soil is so rich that you can grow anything from fruits to vegetables. Growing up, I actually worked in the fields with my grandfather and understood the meaning of hard labor. In the summer, I would wake up early to beat the heat and get out to the field.”

There in the rigors of that hard labor he first learned about values and teamwork. 

“They had this thing called the ‘mule train,’” wrote Boldin. “There were four parts, and it went like this: There is the person that runs the mule train, the person who makes the boxes, the person who packs the boxes and the person who picks the corn.”

He explained that since the arrival of machines, however, many poor people today in Muck City live below the Mendoza line of poverty.  

“It might sound like the kind of place that you run away from and don’t come back,” Boldin wrote. “But this place made me.” Just as it has made others: Since the ’80s, more than 60 players grew out of the Muck to play in the NFL. Among them: Andre Waters, Fred Taylor and Santonio Holmes.

One day while living his NFL dream and enjoying newfound wealth, Boldin woke up and knew he had to help — realizing that he, like the vegetables and fruits, was also a product of that muck.

That’s when he and his wife Dion began broadening their mission to help others less fortunate:

“I realized my purpose in life was not to make it to the NFL and score touchdowns,” Boldin wrote. “God put me on this earth for something much bigger than that and I realized and understand what my purpose is now.”

Once again this year, the Anquan Boldin Foundation will offer four scholarships of $10,000 to high school graduates of both Palm Beach County and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

His generosity didn’t stop there. While playing of the Cardinals, Boldin and teammate Larry Fitzgerald took a trip to trip to Ethiopia where they were shocked about the lack of clean drinking water. Subsequently they joined Oxfam International to raise funds for that cause.

So that’s what’s “good” about the NFL and college football these days. I’d rather be bored with the Anquan Boldin stories than amused and ticked off by athletes acting poorly.

Quite ironically, at 35, Boldin’s NFL future is at a crossroads because his contract with the 49ers has expired. His football future is a bit murky.

I’ve never met Anquan Boldin, but I’m now a huge fan of his, plan to root for him and will keep telling his remarkable story. 

I will also be rooting for somebody to keep him around for a few more years to model good behavior. No -- make that "great behavior."

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