Super Bowl champion and MVP Drew Brees was the keynote speaker for the 15th annual Excellence in Leadership Series held at the University of the Cumberlands on Tuesday night, April 5.
Over 2,500 people gathered inside the O. Wayne Rollins Center to hear Brees speak on what he jokingly described as “the four F’s” - football, faith, family, and philanthropy.
UC students took the opportunity to step up to the mic during the Q & A session and ask Brees questions on these four categories.
Tyler Neal from Corbin, KY, asked, "You have been a leader on the football field, and in the communities you served. What is the hardest obstacle you have faced, and what helped you overcome it?"
Brees said, “So beyond football, I’ve learned some life lessons through overcoming adversity, but probably one of the toughest moments in my life was when my mother passed away in 2009," Brees continued, “I'll never forget I was at practice and my wife and my son showed up to practice, and my wife looked at me and said 'your mother has passed away,' and I said, ‘how?’ and she said, ‘she committed suicide.’ And to hear that was devastating, and it sent me on a three-week journey where I aimlessly tried to understand what had happened and why." He said, "My mom was a light in this world for so many people, and there were so many positive messages from people she had impacted as a light in their life during that time, and I began to reflect on all the things she had been in my life,” He continued, “I realized the best of my mom always lives inside me and so, from that, I realized I have a responsibility to shine a light. It's hard to find positivity when something like that is happening, yet through that reflection, I was drawing on the things that I knew – that obstacle made me a better person as a result, and I have a greater purpose as a result. So that’s the approach I take in all adversity.”
UC’s President, Dr. Larry Cockrum, then asked Brees, “You say, ‘many people would define the good life as one that is free of pain, hardship, and heartache,' but you've learned that adversity is actually an opportunity. It's a gift. Can you tell us one of those adversities that changed your life?”
Brees said, “One of those first defining moments for me was my junior year of high school," He continued, "I was starting quarterback for our high school team, and so here we are making our way through Texas state playoffs, and we're in the third round, I remember getting hit by a defensive lineman, and I fall, and on the sidelines, the doctor tells me I've torn my ACL. In 1995, the surgery wasn't quite as consistent as it is now, so, at the time, I was thinking, ‘God, this is the worst thing to happen to me. Why me?’ And really more so because I was going to miss the season and not play at the next level.” He added, “but as a result of that, I ended up accepting Christ into my life a few weeks later. I became mentally and physically stronger through the rehabilitation process too.”
On behalf of the University of the Cumberlands, Brees also presented the Excellence in Leadership award to Derrick Ramsey, who most recently served as Kentucky’s Secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. Ramsey is also known for playing professional football for the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Raiders, and New England Patriots.
Brees is the 2009 Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. In Brees’ five years with the San Diego Chargers and 14 years with the New Orleans Saints, he has been elected to 14 Pro Bowls while being named 2004 Comeback Player of the Year, 2006 All-Pro Team, 2006 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, 2008 and 2011 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and Super Bowl XLIV Champion and MVP.
As much pride as Brees takes in his on-field performance, he takes even more pride in his community service endeavors. Brees and his wife, Brittany, established the Brees Dream Foundation in 2003 and since then have contributed over $33,000,000 to help improve the quality of life for cancer patients and provide care, education, and opportunities for children and families in need.
Cumberlands’ annual Excellence in Leadership series is made possible by an endowment from local business owners Dr. Terry and Dr. Marion Forcht. Previous speakers at the Excellence in Leadership Series include Terry Bradshaw, Shaquille O’Neal, Dr. Ben Carson, Evangelist William Franklin Graham IV, and many others.
Samantha Walden, Staff Writer at the Kentucky Daily