Jets Wide Receiver Santonio Holmes Talks Helping Kids Be Their Best
Santonio Holmes may have made his mark on the football field, but his path to stardom has included trouble with the law.
As a teenager, the New York Jets wide receiver was busted in his hometown of Belle Glade, Fla., for selling drugs and, years later, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana.
Holmes, 26, tells ParentDish he wants to put his troubled past behind him by ending 2010 on a positive note and making 2011 all about giving back.
On Dec. 21, the football great was in New York's Times Square, where he partnered with Modell's and Reebok to spread some holiday cheer to the kids from the Renaissance Community Corporate Center, which serves families of low income housing and homeless families in the Newark and Essex County, N.J. areas.
But instead of wearing his famous Jets uniform, Holmes, a single father of three, including a son who has sickle cell anemia, traded his green jersey for a red Santa suit.
Before the athlete surprised each child at the event with a Reebok Jets Jersey featuring his number, Holmes sat down with ParentDish to talk about the mistakes he's made and why he wants to educate children.
ParentDish: Sorry you got booed by those Pittsburgh Steelers fans at the Dec. 19 game at your old stadium.
Santonio Holmes: I wasn't paying attention to them.
PD: But you got loud cheers and a standing ovation in Times Square when you played the role of Santa Claus for a group of children who came to visit you.
SH: Now, that's cool. I never considered how big this role is. To have the opportunity to brighten up somebody's day is what the holidays are all about and an amazing honor, too.
PD: Kris Kringle represents hope, magic and making wishes come true. What did you do to try and give some of that to the children you met in Manhattan?
SH: Never listen to anything negative someone says about you. You have to allow yourself to grow from the negative and turn it into a positive. You need to distance yourself from negative people who are not trying to help you and learn who your true friends are. I also tell them to believe in yourself because anything is possible.
PD: Did you believe in Santa as a kid?
SH: That is a whole other road we need to go down and one I don't want to talk about right now.
PD: Speaking of your childhood, you were caught selling drugs and later, as an adult, faced similar demons. Given your past, how do you educate children on how not to take that dark path?
SH: I try to encourage them to do positive things in their community. I try and steer them away from bad people because, in the end, they will do nothing to benefit you or your family. All they will do is lead you down a path you don't want to be on. Let me tell you, it is a quick and fast way to find yourself in jail, wind up on the streets and get involved in violence and, as a result, throw your whole life away.
PD: Your mom was a huge influence on your success because she encouraged you to play football.
SH: She really wanted me to do what I wanted to do. She was all about hard work and because of that we always had food on the table, shelter and clothes on our back. She taught me nothing comes easy and if you want something you have to work hard at it.
PD: What do you say to other parents about getting involved with their children and taking an interest in their future like your mom did with you?
SH: The little things matter to kids. You need to make the time to talk to them about their feelings. Asking them about what they learned in school today or helping them get ready for school by making sure they brush their teeth plays such a huge role in making kids think about the positive. Don't put off spending time with your children. Invest the time so they want to be successful and achieve greatness.
PD: You are also a dad (sons Santonio III, 8, Nicori, 6, and daughter, Saniya, 4).
SH: Oh, man, that takes priority over being Santa Claus or a New York Jet. My role as a father is all about taking on responsibility, and what I understand now is taking care of them.
PD: Being a father has also been heavy on your heart because Santonio has sickle cell anemia.
SH: I have always been positive about that situation. I say prayers for him and know we will overcome this.
PD: What was your reaction when the doctors told you he was diagnosed with this disease?
SH: It was the worst day because you feel helpless. You never want your child to be sick or in pain.
PD: What message of hope do you give him to continue fighting the fight?
SH: We take it a day at a time. We have no control over when he might have a crisis moment. We just encourage him to be positive about today.
PD: I know Santonio had a recent visit to the hospital, but how is he feeling today?
SH: He is doing great. Santonio is energetic, full of life. He is learning a lot and he is also very understanding of what has happened and accepts his role right now in society.
PD: Because your job keeps you on the road a lot, has that been hard in terms of being there for your children, especially since Santonio is ill?
SH: It is hard, but my son understands it and understands what Daddy does for a living and why I can't be there all of the time.
PD: Has your being away had an impact on him and your other children?
SH: I think Santonio has become a stronger kid because I am not around.
PD: Does he text you after every game?
SH: (Laughs.) Yes, he watches every game and reminds me of whom we are playing.
PD: How do you stay in touch with your children?
SH: We Skype a lot and my son also memorized my phone number and can call me anytime he needs me.
PD: Will you get to spend Christmas with them and maybe play Santa again?
SH: No, because we have a game the next day. I wish I could, but, as they say, business as usual. I made sure their mom got them whatever they wanted so their day is full of presents.
PD: What about what you want?
SH: I want to do something positive going forward, and so I started a foundation called DREAMS. Each letter stands for something that has gotten me to where I am today. D is dedication. R is for responsibility, E is for education, which is key to great success and having a strong mind, A is for attitude, which is a lesson my grandparents taught me. The right attitude in how you approach people is very important and dictates how people will respond to you. M is for motivation, to help you reach you pinnacle and where you want to be.
I really want to do some good in the world and help children be all they can be.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.