President & Co-Owner, Tampa Bay Storm
How does it feel to be named as one of TAMPA Magazine’s Leading People?
I would first say I’m humbled by this type of recognition and I hope more good things are ahead in front of me to be worthy of this type of recognition.
Why did you stay in Tampa after your retirement from the NFL?
You know I’m a Floridian, first and foremost, just everything that we built in Tampa, as far my family, my career, the relationships, all of those things made up a big part of the decision to remain in Tampa once I was done playing football.
How did you first get involved with the Tampa Bay Storm?
It was actually through Tod Leiweke and Jeff Vinik; when they decided to purchase the Storm as part of his Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment Brand, they were looking for a leader. Tod reached out to me through various contacts, I met with him about 3 or 4 times and every time I met with him the opportunity seemed much more intriguing. Once I got a chance to meet with Mr. Vinik that more or less sealed the deal. To hear his vision of what he wants to do in Tampa with sports, not only sports enterprises but from a business standpoint, I was glad to be a part of what he’s trying to do.
How does being in the front office of an organization now compare to being on the field?
It’s very different and transitioning is something that I try to encourage all professional athletes to think about when you start playing because that transition is critical when it’s time to move on to the next phase of your life. Your playing career has a shelf life and you’re only going to do it X amount of years, but you have to live and make a career and you’re earning for a greater part of your life, which will be longer than your playing career, so I encourage younger players to build those relationships while they’re playing because the door stays open to build those for only so long.
Once you do it then you’re more comfortable when it’s time to transition, but it’s up to you to look forward to.
You’re an appeals officer for the NFL Players’ Association during the Storm’s off season. How can you help players now that you’re outside the league?
I try to do my best to serve that role the best that I can: educating players, make the game safer and at the same time making sure that their voices are heard when it comes to playing infractions.
What I try to do is treat each individual athlete as an individual and get to know them on a personal level or whatever level they’re comfortable with. I try not to have an umbrella message because it may not relate to that player, but I let them know I’m there to serve them and help them in the best way I can, whatever situation they’re in, or wherever they’re at in life, that’s what I try to build upon with them.
You’ve won a lot of awards over the years. Which one means the most to you?
That I don’t have an answer for, each and every one of them share a piece of my life that represents a certain point in my life and I try not to rank ‘em, so one or the other, I’m just grateful for any recognition that I receive, whether it’s a humanitarian effort or as a professional athlete.
What was the inspiration behind the Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School?
We’re a public charter high school first and foremost, meaning we’re a hybrid between a public school and a private school. The kids that go to our school, we do not charge them, they attend free as if it were a public school, but we build our own curriculum like a private school. We try to take kids and make them the best students they can possibly be and prepare them for life.
The inspiration came through my foundation work, Derrick Brooks Charities, and our after school programs; what we were doing was assisting kids through various tutoring programs to help them build up their grades, be more than what they were showing at school and I guess through years of that support system we just kind of found our niche in helping kids.
I prayed about it, thought about it, my goal was basically to take a kid that was a C-student in a public environment and getting lost because of the numbers, if I could help that same young man or woman in a smaller, intimate environment become an A or B-student and challenge them to look at colleges and post-secondary education, that’s what I wanted to do and that was the underlying idea that I spoke with Mr. DeBartolo about.
I asked them to be my partners and they signed on board.
How did you first meet [former San Francisco 49ers owner] Eddie DeBartolo?
[Laughs] I met him years ago, a few of my Florida State teammates played for him out in San Francisco, so I had a chance to meet him just through old relationships, but when he moved his family to Tampa, just small circles in the community, we just met.
How has Tampa changed since you were drafted in 1995?
Tampa has changed since 1995. You look at two of its sports franchises won championships, me and the Bucs and the Lightning, obviously the Rays established themselves on a championship run and you look at the Storm, every one of the sports franchises has played championship levels in their particular sports, and that has branded the community to look outside of Tampa, you start looking at Clearwater, St. Pete, I think all the sports franchises look at themselves as a Bay Area team.
The players that played during that time that are still around and continue to be a part of the community.
What was it like winning the Super Bowl?
Winning the Super Bowl… sometimes you can’t find words to describe it. For the franchise to start 0 and 26 to win a championship, those things are hard to find words for when you’re in the moment.
It changed the scope of Tampa. Tampa was kind of a participant to being a world champion, it changed how people look at Tampa Bay. Despite hosting two Super Bowls, we still were not there. I think winning that championship kind of took us to another level with respect to the NFL.
What drives Derrick Brooks?
I live my life by 3 ‘F’ principles: Faith, Family, Football, then everything else. I learned that from [Florida State] Coach Bowden. In that order.