Sean Weatherspoon took the time to speak with me about his foundation, SPOONful of Hope, and the different ways he is working to benefit underprivileged children and families in the greater Atlanta metro area. Weatherspoon was raised in a home where education and helping people were valued priorities, and he hopes to instill that understanding in young people and provide underprivileged students with the tools they need to reach their educational goals. Spoon also shared his perspective on being a vocal leader and a mentor to younger players, what drives him to want to help others, and more.
Jeanna Thomas: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. First of all, I'd love to know more about your foundation-the overall goal you hope to accomplish through SPOONful of Hope and some of the ways that you're trying to meet that goal.
Sean Weatherspoon: Well, here in Atlanta, my first year, I had a chance to get involved a little bit with our Rookie Club, which actually goes out in the community of Atlanta and we do certain things, like we serve homeless people down at the shelter, at Downtown Atlanta Food Bank, we would spend time with kids at the schools talking about Play 60 and exercising, as far as that goes. And we would also do other events - special events as well, where I'd have the chance to get with a lot of kids and just bring them a sense of hope, so that's kind of what the foundation was based on, was just bringing a sense of hope to underprivileged kids and underprivileged families here in the Atlanta area.
And basically what we would like to accomplish is just to show them that no matter how outside of the box - how far their dream may be away from actually happening, is if you stick to it and chase whatever it is that you want in life, if that's -anything. It's not just about sports or anything like that. We just try to give them a sense of encouragement that it can happen, and I just try to show them that I'm an example of someone who didn't have a lot growing up and maybe didn't have the best situation, but I stuck to it, and if you put a great cast around you and a positive outlook on life, I think you can accomplish anything. So that's what our goals are.
JT: And one of the things you do through your foundation is your SPOONfeed a Family event, which is a great event. Can you tell me a little bit about that event in particular?
SW: We've done it for about three years now, and in the past - we pick schools to go to in this area, and we have kids write an essay of - a little bit about themselves and their family, their background. And we read the essay and go over and reach out to select a good number of people who we can help. And this past year, we actually went to the World of Coca-Cola, so we had about 15 families who went to the World of Coca-Cola, where I sat down with them and we kind of had a pizza party, and it was around Thanksgiving, so we had some food - we ate, we had a good time. Then we also provided the families with Publix gift cards. And Publix is like the hometown store here - it's a grocery store and a deli, everything. It's pretty awesome. It's one of my favorite places to actually go and shop at for the things that I eat in my house.
JT: Mine, too.
SW: Basically, it's pretty awesome. It's pretty cool. What we wanted to do is help somebody out in need at a certain time of the year - like Thanksgiving, Christmas. Things can be a little bit tough depending on what you may be going through. Maybe you lost a loved one or something like that. Everybody needs help, so what we try to do is just help them in the best way we can. So we gave them a tour of the World of Coca-Cola, which is awesome. The kids had never been there to kind of see the process of the hometown company right here in Atlanta. And also, I just talked with them and encouraged them and had a good time with the pizza party, and then they get the gift cards and they're also able to have a great Thanksgiving meal. So it just makes me feel great, and you can see the smiles on their faces when they're around you and you're letting them know of these benefits that you have for them. So it's pretty awesome that people will allow you to help, and I think it's great for the people who are helping with the cost.
JT: That is wonderful. And another thing that your foundation does is help to provide school supplies to children in need, but one of the things that I'm really impressed about - I feel like you're really meeting a need that doesn't get a lot of attention. You provide clothing and supplies sort of at the midway point of the school year to children in need. It seems like your foundation has a really strong focus on education, and providing students with the things they need to get an education. Is that accurate?
SW: Well, like you said, I come from that educational background, and I know that education is just the foundation of success. And I believe that everyone doesn't get the opportunity - depending on where you live, where you grow up, what school district you're in - it's just going to be a little different. So I've had the chance to go to some places - some schools around this area, and also some homes where kids that don't even - like group homes and things like that, and what we try to do is just encourage them to stick their head in those books, and I teach them the importance of education, because I did graduate from the University of Missouri. It's not like I went there and I just went for football. I knew that was my goal - my goal was always to graduate as well.
So here in Georgia, the reading - I want to say the reading here is pretty bad, so we try to encourage kids to pick up a book when they get home instead of the first thing they do is turn on a video game or go outside and play, to maybe read a chapter a day. And I think that was something that was instilled in me when I was younger. Still to this day, I don't read as much as I used to, but every now and then - sometimes I leave my headphones at home and I just travel with a book. And I think you should always be reaching for more education. And I try to instill that in the youth and I think it will take them a long way in life.
And things that I have around the house - things that schools may need. They might need something - like the group home kids needed shoes. They needed shirts. They needed some things like that, so I had stuff like that around the house. So it was kind of like the random acts of kindness, and we just try to do something positive and continue to impact them in that order. Instead of just enjoying the life of an NFL football player, I believe with my platform that it can be beneficial to other people. So that's been my focus.
JT: What made you decide to host a Celebrity Waiter Night to help raise funds for your foundation's efforts?
SW: Well, a couple of years ago I was doing all this foundation stuff outside - kind of on our own a little bit. I got with Prolanthropy, and one thing that sticks out about Prolanthropy is that they have the resources to get your idea and what you would like to do - they have the resources to get it out there, you know? So we decided a waiter night would be cool because none of my teammates here - they don't do the waiter nights. They have some great events that we have - our coach actually does a waiter night, and I was present for the past two out of three years that he's done it - my past three years I was present for it, and it was something that was good. We had a good time, got the players out. Our players are really likable guys. They don't come around and just act like jocks all the time. They're nice people. So I just asked those types of teammates to come out with me, and we'll just go to Ocean Prime and educate people a little bit about the foundation and what we're doing, and talk to them a little bit about my teammates and how thankful I am for them to be a part of it. And people will get a chance to mingle with them, have a good time, and I don't know - when my teammates are having a good time with the guests who are coming to support the cause, I think it just makes it a little bit more homey. It just feels really homey with all those different types of personalities around. And we just try to have a good time. There's a VIP cocktail hour that's an option - just a lot of good things that are going to come from it, but also a good time.
JT: Yes. And I was there last year - I can vouch for that. I had a great time with you and all of your teammates. It was a wonderful event.
SW: Well, thank you for saying that.
JT: All the proceeds from the evening are going to benefit SPOONful of hope, so would you please talk a little about how this event's going to benefit your foundation's efforts?
SW: The events that we talked about earlier, the SPOONfeed a Family, the Random Acts of Kindness, the football camp, the Hope in a Backpack - like you said, giving back with the school supplies - that's what the goal is, to fund those events. The SPOONfeed a Family is a big event that I've been doing that I really have fun with, and I was doing all these things out of my pocket. But I didn't mind that, but I'm just so thankful that I can get 501(c)(3)-ed up and now we're with - having Prolanthropy and my girlfriend, Christine, who basically runs the foundation - it's really just been going in a positive, positive way. So like I said, the proceeds will all benefit the foundation and we'll be able to do more things and help more people. So that's the goal there.
JT: You are known as a vocal leader on the field and on the sidelines. Are you finding ways to use those vocal leadership skills to help support your teammates this season while you're rehabbing from the Achilles injury?
SW: Yes, ma'am. Definitely. I haven't traveled to every game, but I have been able to travel with the team and be there for the guys as far as encouragement. I think that goes a long way. A lot of people, they don't understand how tough this job is that we actually do. And unfortunately, we have a few injuries. Guys actually have to step outside of their box and guys have to step into different roles, and I feel like me being a guy who's played there a few years, I can definitely help those guys. And that's something that I've been doing. And every now and then, my phone will ring up and it will be some of the younger guys on the team asking me questions, and I just try to help them as much as I can. But out there on the field on Sunday, I try to just encourage instead of trying to use what I know about the game. I just tell them to play what you - you know what you know, and you play what you see, because you have to go out there and react to it. But I always talk about the importance of actually educating yourself about the team, because I play defense, and you kind of have to be a step ahead of the offense because they know what they're doing and we're reacting to it. So I just try to stay out of the way in the game and just encourage them to go out there and have fun.
JT: Did you watch Hard Knocks at all?
SW: I did. I did. I had the chance to watch it. It was pretty cool.
JT: Yeah, it was pretty cool. One of my favorite parts was seeing you interact with Prince Shembo. I've had the chance to talk to him a couple of times, he's a really smart kid - high level of football intelligence. I was really impressed with him reaching out to you and also with your willingness to help him get acclimated to the NFL. What's your mindset about mentoring those younger players and what that means to you as a veteran player?
SW: It kind of goes hand in hand with what my foundation goal is, and it's all about helping people. It's about people helping people, because you can't go through life on your own. You can, but it's going to be hard by yourself, I'll tell you that. I can remember times where I've decided to take things on that maybe I needed some help on and it didn't turn out the way that I planned. So with Prince-what stood out about Prince was the fact that he was steered to - like you said, he has a high football I.Q. One thing that says a lot about Prince was the fact that he's never played the position that the Atlanta Falcons asked him to play this year. So that just says a lot right there. People ask you to do something like that, then they definitely think highly of you.
And he's done a good job so far. He's battled a little bit of injury here and there, but he's doing better. And he's coming around the house a lot, talking with me and watching TV. And during Hard Knocks he wanted to come over and watch some tape, and I wasn't staying at the dorm with them - I couldn't move around like I wanted to. So he'd come to the house every other day, and we would watch practice and go over certain things that could kind of help him.
So you want to be a one-time guy in this league. Like - you don't know this league, you come in, and you get a chance to play, and you're going to learn every week - every week is another learning experience. So most of the time, the players who are going to be the ones who are successful are going to be the guys who can actually go through something one time and learn from it and move on and not make the same mistakes. So that's something that's really cool about this league, when you can have someone that's been there to kind of hold your hand and show you - not hold your hand, per se, but giving you a little bit of help. And I think some of the older guys who were here when I got here - guys like Curtis Lofton, Mike Peterson played 14, 15 years in the league, Coy Wire with 10, 11 years in the league - these guys, they all took my hand and kind of showed me the way, so I'm thankful for them. So I'm just trying to pass that on. If you ask our young guys, could they call on me if they needed some help with something or some type of advice, I would hope they could say, "Spoon's a guy I would like to hit up and figure out some things I may need help with." So I just try to continue to do that, because like I said, we need people in this world and you never know what someone is going through. So you always want to help people when you can.
JT: At last year's event, you talked about what an inspiration your family has been to you as you work to benefit people in need through the work of your foundation. Can you tell me a little bit about your family and how they've inspired you to help others?
SW: Well, my mom is a teacher, and my dad was an auto mechanic. So basically, my friends in high school - there's something going on with the car, somebody would be like, "Hey, man, can your dad look at this," or they'd ask my dad some questions. If something was going on at school or maybe at home that a friend couldn't talk to me about, it would be easier to talk to my mom because she's just like me, she likes to help people as far as - just like my dad. So that just rubs off on me, because I saw how much of a difference it made in my friends' lives. I used to be like, "Why do you want to talk to my mom? Why are you talking to my dad? Man, let's get out of here. Let's go have some fun," or something like that, and then my buddies would be sitting at the table just kind of talking about life and things like that. And I think, like I said, people helping people-that's one thing that my parents instilled in me, that you should always help someone when you can. And I think that's kind of the core of the whole thing.
Sean Weatherspoon will host a Celebrity Waiter Night on November 10th at Ocean Prime in Buckhead, Atlanta, to benefit the work of his foundation. Tickets are available for purchase at SeanWeatherspoon.org.