It took Emmitt Smith 164 games in his professional career to set the NFL’s rushing record. He led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships. He is the only running back to play in a Super Bowl, receive both the Super Bowl and NFL MVP awards and the NFL rushing crown all in the same season. For 15 straight years, Smith used his incredible talent to squirm, squeeze, speed, and spin his way into the record books. Since retiring in 2005, the dapper 46-year old with a southern drawl, golden smile, and well-trimmed goatee hasn’t slowed down. In fact, he is now using the same energy, dedication and resolve in making a monumental impact in the lives of others, cementing his legacy both on and off the field.
Philanthropy has been an integral part of Smith’s life. During the past six years, Smith and his wife, Pat have turned to a different game to help raise funds for the Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities and the Team 22 mentoring program, both of which have a focus on helping underprivileged children. The Smith’s Celebrity Invitational is a two-day golf event that includes a celebrity studded gala held at the Omni Hotel in Dallas and a golf tournament in McKinney. With the help of generous attendees, the couple has raised and donated over $3 million dollars for the youth of North Texas.
Growing up in the Pensacola, FL projects, Smith’s mom, Mary worked at a nursing home while his father, Emmitt II, drove a city bus. The elder Smiths, in addition to advice from his high school football coach, Dwight Thomas, extoled a number of valuable life lessons that stuck over the years, particularly as Smith became a star college athlete on full scholarship at the University of Florida. Thomas, for instance, taught Smith to write down his goals, a practice he continues and encourages his Team 22 students to do as well.
“Team 22’s mission is to try to create good experiences for the kids, so they can make the connection to see how they fit into the world,” says Smith. “Some of us come from areas that don’t really provide exposure to opportunities. We’re often restricted to the lens of our parents, which can sometimes be very limited and only see the rooftop but this can limit your thoughts and your possibilities. We believe in blowing off that rooftop and creating a sunroof, so people can see that the light does shine broader and much brighter than the four corner block where I live. Exposure is one of those things that truly makes people believe that things are truly attainable.”
Twenty students from the Dallas area are selected each year to be a part of Team 22. They are mentored directly by Pat and Emmitt themselves and matched with an elite group of professionals in various industries. In recent years, the students have visited the stock exchange, met President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and First Lady Michelle Obama, among others.
Though this program is just a few years old, Smith has been an advocate for children for decades. His charity work dates back to his college days, but really materialized when the Dallas Cowboys’ visited children’s hospitals every Christmas.
“Speaking to the youth in college gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of responsibility to influence people in a positive way,” he explains. “It also allowed me to encourage others to be successful and to see some of that come to fruition years later. It makes you humble. It makes you realize your blessings. We often forget that there are people in the world who may not have the same opportunities or the same physicality or genetic make-up. It’s a constant reminder of what we should be thankful for.”
Smith’s philosophy in helping shape young minds is the same approach he uses to expand his entrepreneurial endeavors: building bridges to open doors. The father of five’s corporate entity, Emmitt Smith Enterprises, encompasses a construction company and a commercial real estate business. “There’s so much more to do and I love what I’m doing right now,” he says. “Transitioning from the game has never been easy. Trying to reinvent oneself in a business career and have the marketplace take you seriously and most importantly perform in the fashion that you were able to perform on the football field in business and earn that respect is still a process. I’m going through it right now and I feel very good about where we are, but there’s so much more to be done in terms of being extremely successful.”
Despite his record breaking, award winning football career and a seamless transition into the boardroom, number 22 is still finding unconventional ways to remake himself. Along with Pat, the two have decided to put pieces of their marriage on display in a new show on OWN, called “Mrs. & Mr. Smith.” Fans and newcomers alike will be introduced to the husband, the father, and the man who continues to hold fast to the values his parents once taught him as he attempts to incorporate them throughout the various roles of his very entertaining life.
Keep up with Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities here.