Donald Driver is a stellar athlete, a sweet guy and much more. Even if you do not care about football, his family story is worth hearing.
In case you don’t know him
From 1999 to 2013, Donald was a National Football League player for the Green Bay Packers: He once held the team’s record for the most passes received, was in four Pro Bowls, won the Packer’s MVP award in 2002, and in 2011 was part of the team that won the Super Bowl. Some may also know him as the winner of Dancing With The Stars in 2013. But his story is one of a boy who combined the influence of a poor mother and grandparents with deep determination to pull out of the insecurities and limitations of poverty. It is also a great example of what research shows:
- Parents do not need to be perfect.
- They do not need to be the only ones who provide caring support for their children.
- They also do not need to run their children’s lives; providing the right values and example is often enough.
His words in an interview with Sports Illustrated:
“[he] credits his grandparents and his mom with saving him from a life spent heading in a dead-end direction.
‘They had a big role in my life,” Driver said. ‘I would say they saved me. My mom realized that by keeping us she was going to hurt us more than by letting us go. I’ve always said my mom and my grandparents were my backbone. Without them, I don’t know how far I would have gone.”
[Far] from being embittered by his past, Driver has used it to help teach others what’s possible with hard work and dedication, and it’s still a reminder to him of the importance of making good choices in life. “I appreciate what I’ve been through and I also appreciate what I’ve come to be,” he said. “Maybe there aren’t too many who would say that. They’d say they appreciate who they are now, but maybe not what they once did. But it’s your past that helps make you who you are today. My past has made me a better husband, a better father, a better person. All the things I went through in my life have made me better for it, and I don’t take anything for granted.”
Here are excerpts from a longer account of Donald’s life and career on ESPN.com. They describe an uplifting path which goes far beyond the “poor kid makes it into professional sports” kind of story.
“It is  in Driver’s hometown of Houston, where you will hear the stories about a kid nicknamed Quickie, who spent part of his childhood homeless and sold drugs to help put food on the table. Houston is where you’ll learn about a teenager who one day chose a different path, vowing to his brother that he would “make it.” It’s where you’ll learn about a man who has dedicated the rest of his life being a role model on and off the field.”
His family was fragmented and struggling, but devoted to their children
“”His parents divorced when he was young. His dad, Marvin Jr., spent time in prison. And his mom, Faye Gray, had struggled to support her five children. A collection agency had taken most of the family’s possessions, leaving them homeless. They slept in hotel rooms, U-Haul trailers and on the worst nights, the streets. Even then, though, Faye would remind her children to never give up on their dreams. ‘And I promised them,’ she said, ‘that everything we were going through together would someday make us stronger.’
Donald and his brother tried to help out, but not the way their mother wanted. When she went to work at night, they dabbled in dealing drugs and stealing cars. They were heading down a path that had two destinations: jail or a morgue. After Marvin Jr. was released from prison, he suggested that Donald and Marvin III move in with his parents, so Faye could focus on digging out of debt.
‘There’s no greater love than a mother who loves her children so much that she lets them go because that’s what’s best for them,’ Marvin III said. ‘That’s one of the reasons she’s our role model. She did everything she could to better our lives.'”
Turning it all into determination and a goal
“It was with all this emotion swirling around inside of his head and a dark cloud of uncertainty circling over his future that 14-year-old Donald laid in his bed one night and told Marvin III that he had had enough.
‘He just looked at me and said, ‘Man, I’m going to make it,'” Marvin III recalled. ”I’m going to do something that nobody in this family has done. I’m going to make something out of me.”
From that point on, Hardy said, “make it” became a staple in Driver’s vocabulary. ‘It was all the time,” Hardy said. “‘Make it.’ And nobody ever said, ‘Why don’t you be more realistic?’ Nobody told him to set his goals a little lower. You just kept quiet and supported him.’
‘My dream was for my children to get a good job, finish school and have a good life,’ she said. “‘ wanted them to survive. Quickie has done that … and then some.'”
What makes her happiest is the way her son has used his success to help others.
Having made it, giving is one of his joys
“‘It’s a wonderful feeling to know he has such a heart for other people,’ Gray said. ‘As his mom, I’m so incredibly proud. We were homeless at one time and God gave us something. The least we can do is give someone else the break they need.’
The Packers estimate that Driver has made more than 500 charitable appearances during his 12-year NFL career. He also hosts a charity golf outing and pool tournament. And each summer, he hosts free football camps in Mississippi, Texas and Wisconsin. At one such camp in Texas, Mike Truelove, Driver’s varsity high school basketball coach, was amazed at the amount of work his former student had put in.
‘He’s there at 7 in the morning in shorts and tennis shoes setting up grill stations and the equipment,’ Truelove said. ‘He’s there afterwards helping me clean up. It’s real easy to be a star and not do a darn thing for anyone else. But he gives back 10 fold. You want to cheer for someone like that.'”
His family foundation provides help for the homeless as well as experiences, products and scholarships for low-income youth.
On The Impact of the Tough Times
“‘I don’t know if I’d use the word glad, but I guess yeah, kind of glad this all happened,’she [his wife] said. ‘He’s told me — if he would have had everything handed to him, if he would have gone in the first round, he probably wouldn’t be playing now. He probably never would have made the Super Bowl.’
Big brother Marvin III says it even simpler: ‘Since that day he made that promise to himself that he was going to make it, he’s spent every day living up to those words. He hasn’t taken a day off.’ “
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