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NFL player Warrick Dunn lost his mom when he was 18, years later he built 100 homes for single moms

Corporal Betty Smothers was shot during her off-duty work as a police officer as she escorted a grocery store manager to the bank.

NFL player Warrick Dunn lost his mom when he was 18, years later he built 100 homes for single moms
Image source: Getty Images

Most people know Warrick Dunn as an iconic NFL player. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then the Atlanta Falcons. Dunn was named AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1997 and has set many records during his nearly decade-long career. But what many may not know about the star football player is that he has been through the traumatizing loss of his mother as a high schooler and was left to take care of his five siblings all by himself as the eldest of the family. Days after his 18th birthday in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana his mother was shot dead.



On January 7, 1993, Dunn got a phone call from his mother colleague, Officer Theodore Jordan. He informed him that his mother, Betty Smothers, had been shot while working off-duty as a police officer. After Corporal Smothers had finished her 10-hour shift, she took on the task of shuttling the manager of a grocery store to the bank to make her end-of-night deposit. This was when they were ambushed by two gunmen who opened fire. They shot Smothers as well as the bank manager, Kimen Lee. While Smothers was pronounced dead later that night, Lee was badly injured, NBC News reported.


"It was like the air had been squeezed from my body," Dunn wrote in a letter honoring his mother's legacy for NFL. I was the first family member to arrive at the hospital that night, so the surreal job with every bit of horribleness you can fathom of identifying her body fell on me. She lay motionless on the table surrounded by her fellow officers while still in her uniform, her head bloodied, bandaged, and swollen. 'It couldn't be real,' I thought. But it was. My entire world felt as though it had collapsed on top of me." He had plans to visit colleges over the weekend but was left to plan his mother's funeral.


He graduated from high school that year and went to Florida State University. His grandmother came over to help take care of his siblings in a new house he had bought with his mother's insurance money. For the next four years, he worked hard in college but had to forgo the traditional college experience. He would come home every chance he got to help his grandma and look after his siblings. Before his graduation in 1997, he was considered one of the nation's top pass-catching backs, snaring 132 career receptions for 1,314 yards and scoring 47 touchdowns in four FSU seasons and became the first running back in FSU's history to record three 1,000-yard rushing seasons and finished as the Seminoles' career leader in rushing yards.


Dunn was then immediately picked by Tampa Bay and the rest, as they say, is history. Starting with the NFL Rookie of the year award, he won many other accolades as well. "It was fun but I never cared a whole lot about awards, truth be told," he stated. "I was focused still on getting my siblings through school and onto higher education or their next phase of life -- on their own." He attributes his success to all the supportive coaches he has had as well as "my family and even my mom -- a constant inspiration." He added, "So many times I wished she could have been there to see it and enjoy it with all of us. It has afforded some of the greatest memories of my life."


Just before his retirement, he came face-to-face with his mother's killer for the first time since the fateful night. He went into the prison where his mother's killers were on death row and offered them forgiveness. He captured this and his life experience as a football player as well as coping with his mother's death in a book titled, Running for My Life that he published in 2008. Inspired by his mother, Dunn has also lead a life of philanthropy. He first founded the Homes for the Holidays program to fulfill his mother’s dream of owning a home, for single-parent families. He and then went on to establish a charitable institution with three additional programs to help combat poverty, hunger, and improving the quality of lives for families academically, socially, and economically.


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