New York Giants icon Justin Tuck: NFL philanthropy widespread, players want dialogue after protests

New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck gestures after stopping a New England Patriots drive in the third quarter during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. File photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

By Alex Butler UPI

He remembers when he was a college student in South Bend, Ind. A small town kid from Kellyton, Ala., he was now attending the University of Notre Dame.

Tuck’s small town schools didn’t offer the necessary preparation for collegiate academia. The experience stuck with him.

Yes, he would go on to most spend a lucrative career harassing opposing quarterbacks, but one of his biggest achievements was his pursuit and sacking of illiteracy.

“Just knowing how I grew up. I grew up in a small town in Alabama that wasn’t offering AP courses,” Tuck told UPI Thursday. “When I got to Notre Dame, I was completely behind the 8 ball as far as the experience from the educational space that some of my teammates or some of my classmates at Notre Dame had experienced.”

“So it made me aware of some of the shortcomings that we have in our educational space as far as maybe the less funded school systems in this country. It shouldn’t be used as an excuse. I got the opportunity to get to a place like Notre Dame and further my education… but I knew that if I had the opportunity to create some type of correction in that space, I was going to do it. Luckily I met a woman that obviously had the same passion as me. Together I think we have created a pretty good foundation that’s built around continuing to enhance and further the educational opportunities of people who might not have had the opportunities if we weren’t involved.”

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Former New York Giants DE Justin Tuck runs the football back for a touchdown after an interception in 2008 against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Tuck’s R.U.S.H. For Literacy provided more than 94,000 books to 17,400 students in Alabama, New York, New Jersey and California. Tuck founded the initiative in 2008 with wife Lauran to bring the same opportunities that made them successful to low-income youth in those states. Justin and Lauran met at Notre Dame and have two children.

“Getting the opportunity to donate books and reading materials and afterschool programs and logistics around literacy in general has been one of my fondest experiences,” Tuck said. “Getting the opportunity to kind of pay it forward because obviously God has blessed me to have a great opportunity for being an NFL star and creating value around my brand and having the opportunity to use that brand for something that important, I think is one of the greatest things I think I’ve done.”

“I’m going to continue to do this and continue to try and create opportunities for people that might be a little less fortunate than I’ve been. That’s something is very valuable to me personally.”

National Philanthropic League

Tuck isn’t the only NFL player with a knack for philanthropic efforts. If you go into any NFL locker room you’ll hear every cause you can think of that’s worth fighting for or supporting. Professional football players are also professional providers and givers, seeping into the cracks of their communities to create smooth pavement for others to drive toward success.

“I think it’s definitely widespread,” Tuck said. “A lot of it has to do with…maybe a guy is very passionate about getting the sports scene in his hometown more exposure or maybe a guy is passionate about cancer research or he might have had a family member that was involved in domestic violence. It seems like every guy in this league has something that, to his core, he is passionate about and they are involved in it. ”

Tuck says it’s unfortunate that philanthropy is not always the narrative for the nearly 1,700 professional athletes taking the field on Sundays.

“Unfortunately for some reason the narrative too many times only speaks on the negative,” Tuck said. “Obviously no one is perfect. There are things that go on in our league that is on the negative space but I think that is outweighed by the fact that so many guys are involved in so many great things.”

He said he wants that narrative to change.

“I would like to see more exposure given to the guys doing the free camps, guys that are giving scholarships for kids in their hometown that are going to college. Guys that are giving their time on an off day to go visit special needs kids, or hospitals or you name it.”

Tuck – who stands at 6 foot 5, 265 pounds — is still a chiseled athletic specimen, looking capable enough to throw on a Giants helmet and cause havoc at MetLife Stadium. His career included two Super Bowl championships, two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro nod.

But natural athletic assets are not what made him great. It has always been his constantly fueled work ethic and motor. That motor still pumps when he’s asked about his former teammates and friends in the league kneeling for the national anthem on the sidelines.

Tuck on National Anthem Protest

His position is one of understanding.

“There are so many moving parts to this,” Tuck said. “Everybody feels like there is a right answer. I don’t know if there is a right answer at the present time. I think that these protests are designed and the motivation behind them is to create the dialogue. Once you create the dialogue, you give whatever sides there are to have a conversation. Understanding where people are coming from. I think it’s ignorant to make a stance on something that you don’t have any education on.”

“As a black man, to say ‘I hate a white person because they are racist,’ that’s ignorance because I haven’t taken the time out to see where that person might be coming from.”

“Is that racism or is that something that is the product of their environment? Obviously vice-versa: if, as a white person, I think it’s ignorant to take a stance on what black people do if you haven’t taken the time to understand why everybody feels that way.”

Tuck retired at the end of the 2015 season. He isn’t in the locker room like today’s players, answering questions about racial inequality, police brutality or respecting the national anthem. But he said it is “tough” for the players that are in that spot now.

“It’s important to open a dialogue and I think that’s happening and I’m encouraged by the unification that is starting to happen,” he said. “At the end of the day, if a side is not unified then it’s divided. Whatever you’re trying to promote is not going to be promoted in the direction that it needs to be.”

“I’m encouraged by it and I think that we are all encouraged by it. The dialogue has started. Now it’s time for people on both sides to listen and come up with some type of compromise that’s beneficial for this world. I’ve got a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old. They are going to have to live in this world one day and I’m hoping they can look back and say the causes or actions that I stood upon have created a better space. I think everybody that’s involved in this has the same dream.”

Courtyard Super Bowl Sleepover Contest

Tuck and former Giants running back Rashad Jennings were together Thursday to help Courtyard display its Ultra High-Tech 4D Virtual Reality Dome in New York City’s Flatiron District. The 4D Virtual Reality Dome transformed fans to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota, the site of Super Bowl LII. The Courtyard Super Bowl Sleepover Contest gives fans the chance to win an opportunity to sleepover at the site of the Super Bowl in a redesigned luxury suite. The winner of the contest will also get airfare, Super Bowl tickets and gets to bring a friend.