Gilbert Brown Brings NFL Vets To Teach Life Lessons Through Tough Love

Gilbert Brown Brings NFL Vets To Teach Life Lessons Through Tough Love

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Gilbert Brown said back it up.

When Gilbert Brown says back it up, you back it up.

The Super Bowl champion and former Green Bay Packer defensive lineman said, “back it up,” and everyone from elementary school-aged children to members of the Madison Fire Department and local news cameramen backed up, just the way a generation of NFL quarterbacks did.

Brown wanted everyone to form lines so he could begin doing exercise drills with the kids.

“You gonna learn today!” Brown yelled as the kids attending his free camp started running laps. “We can do this easy. We can do this hard. It’s up to you!”

Brown led the campers through fitness drills in the hot morning sun on Tuesday at Breese Stevens Field on Madison’s near east side. For the second consecutive year, the three-day camp was being held by the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County in conjunction with the Gilbert Brown Foundation.

Brown, who was listed at 6’3 and 340 pounds during his playing days, took a harsh tone, allowing no quarter to doubters or pouters during the morning portion of the camp. But there was a method behind it. Brown knows how hard it was for him to become the player he was as well as the person he is today.

One of the Packers’ greatest nose tackles, Brown anchored some of the best defenses in NFL history as the Green Bay Packers went to three consecutive NFC Championship games and back to back Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI in 1997.

Gilbert Brown became a Packer fan favorite, partly because he was easy to spot, and partly because of his eccentric gravedigger dance.
Gilbert Brown became a Packer fan favorite, partly because he was easy to spot, and partly because of his eccentric gravedigger dance.

Now, Brown, and one of his legendary teammates, Santana Dotson, blew whistles and barked out orders to the kids in attendance hoping to instill a little discipline in a soft generation.

“Kids nowadays, man, you gotta give them a tough road,” Brown said. “I mean some of these kids want things easy. Everything I worked for, everything I got, I earned. This is a free camp so they gotta earn it. We’re out here showing them discipline, we’re out here showing them tough love, but at the end of the day we’re gonna hug them and tell them we love them.”

The road through the free camp was indeed tough. Santana Dotson, the hulking former Green Bay defensive tackle, looked almost tender as he comforted a crying young boy during sit-up drills.

“Football ain’t easy!” Brown’s booming voice yelled as another boy was escorted off the field in tears during the same drill. After seeing the difficulty those two had, Brown implored this generation that it would be hard. It isn’t Madden, Brown said, referring to the popular football video game. They have to actually work rather than press buttons on a controller.

“I think this is what the kids need,” said Franklin Symonds, the father of the boy who had a difficult time. “This teaches him how to do things correctly. I think the kids need a lot more discipline than just this. This is a good start to help them get focused on what they need to do in life. And I know I’m really appreciative of the opportunity for my boy to come out and do this. He can get it from the pros.”

Michael Johnson, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, looked on proudly as well. He particularly appreciated being able to use Breese Stevens Field, an excellent facility for football with a high quality field.

“This is our second year doing this camp with the Gilbert Brown Foundation,” Johnson said. “I love the fact that he brought Santana Dotson out here. They also have a couple of other NFL players coming throughout the next couple days. We have about 100 kids that registered this morning and another hundred or so that’s going to show up. So we’re really excited about it.”

Brown and Dotson separated the kids into multiple teams and set up stations for them to practice everything from vertical leaping to diving on loose fumbles to proper footwork. At every station was a coach demonstrating the proper technique

No detail was left undemonstrated whether it was the proper way to breathe or how to set one’s feet in different positions. The campers got the full benefit of Brown and Dotson’s decade long NFL experience.

“To have a couple guys out here who have won Super Bowls and were at the top of the game at one point in their careers, I think is a very special thing for our kids,” Michael Johnson said. “I think sports is a great way to teach good sportsmanship, character, leadership and it’s something all young people need. That’s why you see both boys and girls out here and I’m hoping every year this camp gets bigger and bigger.”

Johnson said he hopes to serve a thousand kids each summer through building this partnership with the Gilbert Brown Foundation. Milio’s donated $100,000 to the camp and food and beverages as well.

For Brown, it’s the chance to set kids up for success that drives him. Whether it is one kid or a thousand, he wants to reach as many as he can. When asked what the biggest challenge these kids would face, Brown was as real as could be.

“Well, it’s life. It’s life,” he said. “Some of these kids don’t have both parents at home. Some of these kids don’t have any discipline and we’re out here trying to show them that even if you don’t have a dad at home, mom is a role model and vice versa. It’s a tough road for everybody. Life is tough man. All we can do is make sure that we keep pushing forward and that they’re doing things they need to do.”

Written by Nicholas Garton

Nicholas Garton

Nicholas Garton is a Madison College student and a reporter in the Madison365 Academy.

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