After the Dallas police shooting a few months ago, Pastor Omar Jahwar, who is featured in the “Comeback” series at Opportunity Lives, introduced me to Deion Sanders. Most Americans know Sanders as “Primetime,” a larger than life athlete who dominated the sports he played and the celebrity endorsement game.
But, Jahwar, who is also Sanders’ pastor and close friend of 15 years, knows him as a committed partner in the war on poverty and gang violence. As Jahwar led the rebuilding of Dallas after the police massacre, he recommended I speak to Sanders about how their community would heal.
As a child of the 1990s, I was certainly elated at the prospect to chat with the only athlete to play in both the Super Bowl and the World Series. I knew about his extraordinary athletic feats, as well as his tremendous successes off the field.
But in our conversation I learned nothing about football. I discovered how Sanders sought to leverage his fame and resources for good.
Football, Sanders insists, is just what he did. It’s not who he is.
People close to Sanders say he is a deeply thoughtful and insightful person. During our conversations, I witnessed a sense of duty, a desire for character, and an earnest intellectual curiosity.
I’ve since had the joy of spending extended periods of time with Sanders, learning about his life and witnessing his ministry to others. As I grew to know the NFL Hall of Famer, I noticed the story he wants to tell isn’t about breaking records, making millions or basking in the spoils of celebrity. Instead, it’s about, as he puts it, blessing others.
His faith and family, he says, have always and continue to remain utterly paramount in his life – a life much different than the media-concocted caricature of “Neon Deion”.
Sanders works closely with Jahwar and his team of Urban Specialists to tackle poverty and gang violence in their community. Sanders knows all of the “Specialists” – he even coaches some of their kids – and toils side-by-side with them to transform some of the toughest neighborhoods in America.
Once, I asked Sanders if he had any hobbies. Without hesitation, he told me that he had no need for them. He simply feels called to bless others. And unlike other celebrities whose philanthropic inclinations last only as long as the cameras are rolling, those around him say it is the foundation for his life.
Sanders says he has a heart for single mothers struggling to provide for their children. He’s passionate about instituting educational justice, where quality choices are available to every single child, no matter his or her upbringing. He is fighting to end poverty and violence. He wants to restore civility and sanity to our country’s discourse.
And now, he’s ready to tell the world about it.
Every two weeks, Opportunity Lives will feature a conversation with Deion Sanders. We’ll delve into his largely untold biography, his unique experiences and his perspective about news of the day. He’ll share insights, stories and solutions to challenges facing our country.
Sanders is no stranger to Opportunity Lives. He’s featured in the “Comeback” series alongside Jahwar and Speaker Paul Ryan, as they discuss creating economic mobility rooted in strong communities.
You won’t find anything like this anywhere else: Deion Sanders like you’ve never seen him before.
Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.