Candid Talk on Life in the NFL

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

[media-credit name="Credit: Shareif Ziyadat" align="alignleft" width="300"]musclemorphosis.com[/media-credit]Braylon Edwards has a misdemeanor assault, a drunk-driving charge, and several speeding violations on his checkered resume. There. Now that the 28-year-old wide receiver’s legal issues are out of the way, here’s what you should really know about Braylon Edwards: He’s one of the good guys. Last year, Edwards made headlines—for the right reasons—when he followed up on his pledge to pay for 100 Cleveland-area students to go to college. In 2007, Edwards’ best year with the Browns, the Pr...

[media-credit name="Credit: Shareif Ziyadat" align="alignleft" width="300"]musclemorphosis.com[/media-credit]Braylon Edwards has a misdemeanor assault, a drunk-driving charge, and several speeding violations on his checkered resume.

There. Now that the 28-year-old wide receiver’s legal issues are out of the way, here’s what you should really know about Braylon Edwards: He’s one of the good guys.

Last year, Edwards made headlines—for the right reasons—when he followed up on his pledge to pay for 100 Cleveland-area students to go to college. In 2007, Edwards’ best year with the Browns, the Pro-Bowler promised a $10,000 scholarship for every student who could graduate with a 2.5 GPA and 15 hours of community service. Four years later, 79 of those students exceeded the requirements—and Edwards paid for each one to further his or her education.

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Some of the students who took part in Edwards’ Advance 100 initiative are now enrolled at Harvard, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins universities—a remarkable feat, considering that only half of Cleveland public school students ever make it out of high school. (The city has the third-lowest graduation rate in the country.)

Athletes donate their millions to charities all the time, but few ring as sincere in their efforts as Edwards. Here, the free agent receiver—he was waived by the 49ers in December because of a nagging knee injury—speaks about the importance of philanthropy, and why your favorite team would be wise to sign him to play next season.

Men’s Health: What spawned the Advance 100 initiative?

Braylon Edwards: I’ve been given so much, and I wanted to reach out and give back to people. My mom and I came up with a foundation that we really could believe in, be proud of, and relate to. See, it’s hard to do something just to do it. Even though it would’ve been great to promote breast cancer awareness, I really can’t relate to it. I don’t know anything about it. But I do know education, and that became the reoccurring theme. In Detroit, where I’m from, we had the lowest high school graduation rate. In Cleveland, when I was with the Browns, we had the third lowest.

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Men’s Health: How involved were you with the students during the program?

Braylon Edwards: We did a bunch of different things for them. It’s easy to go, “You do this, I’ll do that, and we’ll see you in 4 years.” But we worked with these kids all the time. We got them into college courses on the weekends, so most of the kids who made it to college this year already had credit going in. We put them in etiquette classes—the ones that teach young men how to shake hands, how to tie a tie, and how to sit down at the proper place setting. We wondered, “What do these kids need in life that they can’t get in high school?” Sometimes we just sat down and talked about life with them. We had one girl get pregnant early on toward the end of her freshman year in high school. Obviously it’s not what we wanted, but we didn’t shy away from that. We helped her with whatever she needed, and she ended up graduating in just three years as a 4.2 student, and she now goes to Bowling Green on a full-ride scholarship. As a mother. I’m really proud of what we did.

Men’s Health: Do you think some athletes donate to charity just because it's what's expected of them as people in the public eye? And why is it so important to actually back up those actions?

Braylon Edwards: Athletes should give more of a shit—if they really mean it. They should take time to found a foundation that they can believe in and support. That’s opposed to their financial advisers or agents saying, “Hey, you should donate $10,000 to this hurricane relief fund and tweet about it.” Listen, we’re blessed individuals. Let’s call a spade a spade. We drive high-end vehicles, stay in nice areas in nice houses, and wear nice jewelry. We do, for the most part, whatever we want to do. So I think we have to remember what went into us getting where we are along the way. At the end of the day, I don’t get anything back from it. I’ve been given so much, so why not help? So many people need reassurance. You can go to high school on a day-to-day basis and listen to the teacher tell you, “If you do this, that, and a third, you can go to college and become a doctor,” and so on. It’s one thing for students to hear that from a teacher’s mouth, but it’s another thing to hear that from athletes or entertainers who they watch, mimic, and idolize.

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Men’s Health: Does getting recognition for your philanthropy help clear the Braylon Edwards name?

Braylon Edwards: It was really just two instances where I was in the wrong place at the wrong time that left a stain on my name and my career. So it feels really good to see my philanthropy getting the attention it deserves. Maybe Braylon Edwards isn’t who we thought he was. In the same sense, it’s one of those things where nothing matters if you’re successful. All can be forgiven when someone is successful. And philanthropy doesn’t matter if you’re not successful. You watch someone like Ben Roethlisberger. He had back-to-back summers when he was dodging rape cases. But then he went to the Super Bowl and everyone forgot about all of that. It happens all the time. I’m just happy that the foundation is getting the notoriety that it should, because we’ve worked so hard.

Men’s Health: You’re a free agent in April. Give me your best pitch for why I should pay you money to come play for my team, knowing that you’ve had health problems and legal troubles in the past.

Braylon Edwards: In terms of the health issues, by the time April rolls around [when NFL free agency begins], I will have been in Miami for several months working with one of the nation’s best rehab specialists and knee surgeons. The health will be there. I’m still on the minor side of 30, so I’ve got some years left. Also, in terms of the two incidents, hey, nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s put in situations when they’re challenged, but the key is, how did you come back from adversity? In both instances, I’ve grown. I’ve never been a bad presence in the locker room, and I’ve never gotten into any issues with a coach or fellow player. If there's team that wants that, along with some playoff experience, then I’m here.

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