Former Packers player Antonio Freeman promotes self-awareness, positive actions
Insecurity is an unspoken force among middle schoolers. That awkward feeling you get while just trying to fit in.
Former Green Bay Packers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Freeman remembers those school days well. Just before the 2022-23 school year kicked off, the hall of famer met with Madison-area youth at Breese Stevens Field during a leadership development event titled Empower.
If something stands between you and your success, move it, Freeman urged the young students. As keynote, he emphasized believing in self. You will not just make it through, you will come out smarter, faster, more confident, and better than ever before, he added.
“You see us as football players and you think our life is glory all the time,” Freeman said. “We have hardships, we have struggles. We just want to prepare the kids for life. They’re going to make mistakes, but they can bounce back. It’s never over until you say it’s over. You control your own destiny.”
The Packers, in partnership with the Urban League of Greater Madison and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, held the day-long camp to encourage and inspire students entering grades 6 to 9 for the new school year so they can be the best versions of themselves and create positive change in their school and community.
Participants took part in lessons on internet and social media safety, team building, and ways to give back to their communities. It was evident the life lessons resonated with the preteens. Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett also led a workshop.
“I can relate to what Antonio was saying because (bullying) happens in my school a lot and to me,” said Laronica Amos, a seventh grader at Spring Harbor Middle School. “They’ve called me slow, stupid. Lots of stuff. But he taught us how to move forward and ignore them.”
“I love the Packers,” said Jayden Wilks, an 8th grader at Sennett Middle School. “This is like my favorite football team in the NFL. I’m a big fan of Aaron Rodgers. Well, and Devonte Adams, but he left. I’m here to be really focused on learning a lot. I want to be the best version of me.”
Freeman told UMOJA Magazine that he grew up in a seedy and drug-infested Baltimore neighborhood. Loving parents spared him from the fate some of his childhood friends withstood.
“I reminded these kids that every action you make doesn’t only affect you,” Freeman said. “It affects all the people who had hands on you … your coach, your mentor, your teacher, your neighbor, your siblings, your parents and grandparents. Whoever’s involved in life.
“My biggest thing growing up, the thing I hated, was disappointing my Mom. I wasn’t a kid that was completely innocent. But I worked hard and focused on my grades as well as being a great team player,” Freeman added.
The hard work paid off. Freeman was drafted by the Packers in 1995.
Packers’ fans remember Freeman for his 81-yard touchdown reception in Super Bowl XXXI and that improbable touchdown catch against the Minnesota Vikings in November 2000. He became one of the best wide receivers in franchise history and a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. In 2006 Freeman won a Pop Warner Award for his work with youth.
“We are thrilled to work with both the Green Bay Packers and the Boys and Girls Club to empower youth in the Greater Madison Area,” Dr. Ruben L. Anthony Jr., president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison. “Youth leadership has long been an important component of the ULGM’s programming, and we are excited to continue this work.”
The event is part of Green Bay Packers Give Back, the team’s all-encompassing community outreach initiative that includes the Green Bay Packers Foundation, appearances made by players, alumni, coaches and staff, football outreach, cash and in-kind donations, Make-A-Wish visits, and community events. The annual overall charitable impact of Packers Give Back exceeds $9 million.
“We’re excited to partner with two great organizations to support youth in our community,” said Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson. “BGCA focuses on empowering youth to stand up as leaders for what is right and ensure everyone feels important, and we know youth will walk away from this event inspired and empowered to do so.”