NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders was in Atlanta this past weekend for his 3rd annual TRUTH Sports Weekend. The weekend included the Primetime Celebrity Softball Challenge, the annual TRUTH Sports Youth Football Tournament, and the Primetime Black & Red Gala.
This year’s event was special because Sanders and his TRUTH organization celebrated the launch of TRUTH Atlanta.
TRUTH is a sports program Sanders started through his Prime Time Association non-profit organization that focuses on teaching kids through sports and education. Promoting positive self-image, TRUTH looks to mold the stars of tomorrow into positive role models in their communities. TRUTH invests in the mental, spiritual, physical, financial and overall wellbeing to build stronger kids by reinforcing education.
Sanders brought four bus loads of kids, parents and coaches from Dallas, Texas to enjoy the festivities.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Sanders during the football tournament to talk about TRUTH Atlanta, the TRUTH Sports Weekend, his charter school – PrimeU Prep Academy, and his predictions for the upcoming NFL season.
This is the 3rd annual TRUTH Sports Weekend. How did this event come about?
A dear friend of mine and former teammate Jamal Lewis…we just wanted to bring something to Atlanta that lags here. That could be fruitful, to really focus and blessed the kids. And we collaborated together and its turned into something really special and we’re proud of it.
What was the motivation behind creating TRUTH?
Its an organization that we utilize to trick these kids into sports to educate them. Its a wonderful trick. Football, baseball, basketball, track, cheerleading, soccer, as well as all girl sports. And we educate these babies. In summer camp we go for six weeks and there’s school work. Science, english, math, social studies as well as reading. They have to perform this. Its hard to tell a kid he’s going to summer school even though he’s an A and B student, but through our sports programs that’s involved. They must do it. Also, we have Prime Prep Academy with grades K-12 that opening this fall on Aug. 27. We’re so excited about that. So now we get to retain all of those kids. It was unfortunate in the past we blessed these kids, we raised these kids, and give them structure and guidance and mentorship then we lose them to another school that don’t have the love and compassion that we do. So now that we have Prim Prep Academy, it wonderful.
Now you’re bring the TRUTH organization to Atlanta. Former NFL player Keon Carpenter is coaching the north football team and former running back Jamal Lewis is coaching the south team. Former NFL running back, scout and front-office executive Melvin Bratton is overseeing both the teams. How is that working out?
Its working out well. We have some growing pains because a lot of people are not use to something they’ve never seen before. And the overall structure, the commitment, the sacrifices that one must make for his child. And the fathers are being challenged to be men and the mothers are just doing what they’ve normally been doing – loving them babies like no other. Sometimes its not an easy process to except change because we do stuff right, by the book, on time and very professional. And bring it to Atlanta, its really welcomed. It really is. The parents are overzealous about it and we’re excited about the future.
Have they had tryouts for football yet?
Yeah, we over 800 kids register for the tryouts along for the football team. So its good. We have TRUTH Atlanta playing on the field now.
Speaking of your charter school, why did you want to create a charter school?
I believe the kids are the future. To stop the ignorance, the violence, the adolescent, the poverty, I think education is the answer. If we look at the men that are incarceration, most of those people incarcerated are uneducated. So we just pray that we can make a difference. And we can. Its been a three-year process and even acquring a charter school. It ain’t like they just line up to give black folks a charter school. You got to go through a lot of turmoil and dilemmas to get one and we did. We came out like a bandit but scored well and we’re excited. We’re getting ready to employ over 100 teachers, coaches in all sports, the tuition is free, every kid will receive a free laptop computer, 21st century technology; we’re darn near book-less. I mean the technology that we are intertwining into these kids are unbelievable. It really is.
How many kids have enrolled at the school?
We can handle 750 at each location. K-5 in Fort Worth and 6-12 in south Dallas. And we’re almost at the lottery in south Dallas. We still have more room. We’re probably around the 500 or 600 mark in Fort Worth, but we’re almost at the lottery in south Dallas.
Any plans to open a charter school in Atlanta?
Yeah, we got to ground swell it with the program first. We got to build trust. We got to build trust and loyalty from the parents of the sports. Then we turn it over to the school.
And with this trip, besides the kids playing football, what else do you want them to get out of this weekend?
Focus, commitment, sacrifice, dedication, love, appreciation, all for their parents. Because their parents don’t have to do this. They don’t have to bring them out here on a weekend as hot as it is out here and sit through that. Especially sometimes when they aren’t giving it their all. But the parents do. So just the adoration for their parents and that commitment to their teammates and to the organization. We want them to do that because it carries over into the classroom.
This is the first time that you all brought the cheerleading team on this trip. how are they enjoying it so far?
Good, good. I mean you got to expose both parties. The boys have been exposed to so much. I mean so much over the last serval years. Now its time for the girls. I think they’re mature enough and we’re mature enough as an organization that we can handle both entities on the road. You got to understand that we’re traveling with four buses and it holds 55 passengers on each bus. So its a lot to accommodate these people and give the structure of the organization to all. But the girls are doing well. I’m so proud of them. Kim Mathis, wife of Kevin Mathis, former Atlanta Falcon, she runs the cheerleading. And she does it like no other. Her love, compassion and commitment…she’s in camp everyday. And like I said, this is all volunteer. Nobody is getting paid for this. We do it because we love it.
2012 NFL season
Preseason is starting in a couple of weeks and a few of your colleagues have made their predictions about the upcoming season. A couple of teams made some big splashes through the draft and free agency. Based on those moves, which teams do you think will make a lot of noise this season?
I think some of the same ones that made noise last year. There’s no reason for change especially when they’re reloading and loading the deck. So some of the teams that faired well in the NFC. You got to look at New Orleans and Atlanta as well as probably Green Bay. Green Bay is Green Bay still. And San Francisco got a lot better, I feel, in the offseason. And then in the AFC you’re going to have those same guys. New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh. You know those guys are really good at what they do and they have professionals at quarterback and I think they’re going to be ok.
We’re in Atlanta and the Falcons are the home team. They had disappointing season with another early playoff exit. They made a few acquisitions, the big one being cornerback Asante Samuel. What do you think Samuel will bring not only to the defense but the team in general?
Experience, knowledge, know-how. He’s been in countless situations up under pressure and he’s performed. His whole key is just to stay healthy. If he stays healthy I think he’ll help that team tremendously.
You’ve played against and with some of the best wide receivers such as Jerry Rice and Michael Irving. Julio Jones has made a lot noise this offseason. Some people predict that he’ll have a breakout year this year. Do you feel the same way?
You only have one ball. Tony Gonzalez got to get his. Michael Turner got to get his. Your main receiver is Roddy White, he got to get his. I think Julio will perform and do what he’s been gifted to do but you only have one football. And I think the pecking order is those other guys that I mentioned previously, then he gets his.
A few have gotten in trouble this offseason and there have been a lot of arrests. You work with young kids everyday and a lot of kids look up to football players and watch some of their actions off the field. What do you tell these kids to make sure they don’t end up in those circumstances?
First of all these kids are very intelligent and they’re very smart. They have so many mechanisms in accessing media and coverage and knowledge. These kids will follow these pro guys a lot of places but they won’t follow them to jail. I truly believe that they are intelligent enough and they will not follow them to jail. And they lose a lot of love and respect when that happens. And then for the athlete, its up to him to rebuild that trust and respect to those kids because those kids those kids look up to him. But they won’t follow him to jail. They can take them a lot of places but they won’t go there.