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White, Reggie

Reggie White

1961-2004

Football player, minister, philanthropist

For a decade and a half, Reggie White dominated the National Football League as one of its most ferocious defensive players. White habitually struck terror into opposing offenses with his great strength, but he also possessed speed, stamina, and the ability to size up situations for maximum impact. Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan once called White the "perfect defensive linemanprobably the most gifted defensive athlete I've ever been around." After eight seasons with the Eagles, in 1993 White signed a four-year, $17-million contract with the Green Bay Packers; it was an unprecedented amount for a defensive player. Upon his retirement from the NFL in 2001, White was credited with a record 198 career sacks; he had been named to the Pro Bowl an impressive 13 times in succession (although he failed to play in 1994 due to injury). In 1999, the Green Bay Packers retired White's jersey number (92) after his retirement from that team.

Loved His Tennessee Home

Reginald Howard White was born and raised in Tennessee. He went to college thereat the University of Tennesseeand he called that state home his entire life. As a child he lived in Chattanooga, where he was raised by his mother and his grandparents. The family was deeply religious. They attended the local Baptist church regularly, and as a youngster White was inspired by the ministers and teachers he met there. He did not undergo a single, charismatic experience of faith, but rather found his ties to Christianity growing stronger over the entire period of his youth. His mother, Thelma Collier, told Sports Illustrated that when he was 12 years old he announced that he wanted to be two things: a football player and a minister.

Football was a welcome outlet for a young Christian who was teased and goaded by bullies. "When I was a child, I was always bigger than the other kids," White told Sports Illustrated. "Kids used to call me Bigfoot or Land of the Giant. They'd tease me and run away. Around seventh grade, I found something I was good at. I could play football, and I could use my size and achieve success by playing within the rules. I remember telling my mother that someday I would be a professional football player and I'd take care of her for the rest of her life."

White's strength and size indeed seemed to be God-given. He never lifted weights or conditioned himself rigorously, but he was always in shape. At Howard High School in Chattanooga, he played both football and basketball, earning All-America honors in football and all-state honors in basketball. Numerous colleges recruited him, but he chose to stay near home and enrolled at the University of Tennessee, whose team, the Volunteers, were glad to have him. He was a talented and determined athlete who spent his Sundays preaching sermons in churches all over the state. As a senior in 1983, he was a consensus All-American and one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award given annually to the outstanding college lineman. (He did not win.) During his years with the Volunteers, White earned the nickname "minister of defense." The named followed him into his professional career, which began in 1984.

For a while it appeared that Reggie White might never leave Tennessee. After graduating from college he signed a five-year, $4 million contract with the Memphis Showboats, one of the teams in the fledgling United States Football League (USFL). The USFL began as an alternative league for cities starved for professional football action. From the outset it was dwarfed by the better-known, better-staffed National Football League, and soon the upstart teams foundered financially. White viewed this financial instability with concern. He also wanted to prove himself against the best players in the game. He began the 1985 season with the USFL but defected to the Philadelphia Eagles. With his wife, Sarawhom he had met in churchhe ventured north to join the NFL.

Jumped from USFL to NFL

White took a salary cut in Philadelphia. The Eagles signed him to a four-year, $1.85 million deal after buying out the remaining three years on his Memphis contract. At the time White was still an unproven entity, but his anonymity did not last long. He joined the Eagles after the 1985 season had begun, missing the first few games. When he finally did start, he made ten tackles and two-and-a-half sacks in his very first game. By season's end he had turned in 13 sacks in as many games, and he was named NFC defensive rookie of the year.

Curiously enough, White's singular gift for mayhem began and ended on the gridiron during his 15-year career with the NFL. The rest of his time was always been spent in pursuing humanitarian work inspired by his deep Christian faith. The citizens of Philadelphia soon discovered that they had won the services of more than just a star athlete. "I believe that I've been blessed with physical ability in order to gain a platform to preach the gospel," White told Sports Illustrated. "A lot of people look at athletes as role models, and to be successful as an athlete, I've got to do what I do, hard but fair. I try to live a certain way, and maybe that'll have some kind of effect. I think God has allowed me to have an impact on a few people's lives." White spent hours and hours of his spare time preaching on street corners in Philadelphia's troubled inner-city neighborhoods. He gave money to dozens of Christian outreach organizations and spoke as a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And he led by example. In the rough-and-tumble world of professional football, none of his opponents or teammates could ever recall hearing him curse or seeing him fight.

White blossomed in 1986 with the arrival of Buddy Ryan as the Eagles' head coach. Ryan had made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator and had worked with some great lines, including the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. Quickly Ryan assessed White's potential and built the defense around him. Opponents tried to double- and triple-team White, but still he achieved more than 11 quarterback sacks each season. In his first season under Ryan, he made 18 sacks in 16 games. He was also named Most Valuable Player at the annual Pro Bowl after sacking the opposing quarterback four times in that game. In 1987 he led the league with an NFC-record 21 sacks, and most certainly would have broken the all-time record had the season not been shortened by a players' strike.

At a Glance

Born Reginald Howard White on December 19, 1961, in Chattanooga, TN; died December 26, 2005, near Knoxville, TN; son of Charles White and Thelma Dodds Collier; married Sara Copeland, January 5, 1985; children: Jeremy, Jecolia. Education : University of Tennessee, BA, 1983. Religion : Baptist.

Career: Memphis Showboats (USFL), professional football player, 1984-85; Philadelphia Eagles (NFL), professional football player, 1985-93; Green Bay Packers (NFL), professional football player, 1993-98; Carolina Panthers (NFL), professional football player, 1999-2000. Alpha & Omega Ministry, founder (with wife, Sara) and president, 1988-2004; Hope Place, founder and president, 1991. Served as a spokesperson for Nike; active in fund-raising and blood drives for Children's Hospital of Chattanooga and Eagles Fly for Leukemia.

Memberships: Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Awards: Named Southeast Conference Player of the Year, 1984; named NFC rookie of the year, 1986; named NFL defensive player of the year by Associated Press 1986 and 1998; named to 1980s All-Decade Team Pro Football Weekly, 1991; named defensive player of the year by Pro Football Weekly, 1991; named to NFL Pro Bowl, 1986-98; Pro Bowl MVP, 1987; White's Jersey Number (92) retired by the Green Bay Packer's, 1999; named to NFL's All-time Team, 2000.

Emerged as Team Leader

That players' strikea particularly bitter onesaw White emerge as a team leader. As one of the team-voted union representatives, White worked hard to keep his fellow Eagles united in the face of "replacement" teams and fan apathy. Didinger wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News : "One of the more memorable images of that 1987 season was White wearing a picket sign and blocking a bus loaded with replacement players as it attempted to pull into a South Jersey hotel. [White] spoke loudly and passionately about the need for the veterans to stick together. Other teams broke ranks: the Eagles never did."

The hard feelings between White and the Eagles' front office probably began to develop during this strike season, intensifying as the years passed, but White's continued dominance on the field allayed any talk of trade or release. In 1988 he led the NFL in sacks for the second straight year. Between 1989 and 1991 he was joined on the defensive line by several equally ferocious teammates, including Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Jerome Brown. This potent defensewith White still as anchorwas widely considered the best in pro football by 1991.

Observers marveled at the way White roared into every play of every game without ever seeming tired or distracted. White told Sports Illustrated : "In high school and college you're taught to hit the ground on a double team. Here you're expected to take it on. I get double-teamed on every play, so I expect it. Sacks are great, and they get you elected to the Pro Bowl. But I've always felt that a great defensive lineman has to play the run and the pass equally well. The so-called men of the game pride themselves on being complete players."

In 1989 White signed a four-year, $6.1 million contract that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL at the time. The deal came at the tail end of considerable acrimony between White and the Eagles' ownership and management. Didinger described the relationship between White and the Eagles' brass, headed by owner Norman Braman: "They split on so many issuesthe 1987 players' strike, the 1990 firing of head coach Buddy Ryan, the 1992 loss of free agent Keith Jacksonthat in the end they had nothing to build on. There was no trust, no goodwill to serve as the foundation for constructive talks." Although he continued to play at the top of his game under new Eagles coach Rich Kotite, White became privately convinced that owner Braman was not pursuing a championship with any great vigor.

As the end of his 1989 contract approached, White grew more and more critical of Braman and his decisions. In the press White suggested that the Eagles' training facilities were inadequate. White spoke of the growing chasm between Braman and the Eagles players, using his own chilly relations with the owner as an example. Not surprisingly, White became one of the plaintiffs in a 1992 lawsuit against the NFL ownership to enlarge the powers of free agency.

Joined the Packers

Unrestricted free agency descended upon the NFL officially on March 1, 1993. Reggie White quickly became the most visible-and sought-after-unrestricted free agent after the 1992-93 football season. His contract with the Eagles had expired, and although he claimed that he would not mind staying in Philadelphia, he was not tendered another offer there. As it happened, Green Bay was one of a half dozen teams that bid quite openly for White's services at that time. He flew to Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Green Bay, New York City, and Washington, D.C., as an all-out war erupted to sign the powerful defensive end. Everywhere he went he was courted not only by team owners, management, and player personnel, but also by ordinary citizens who had heard about his community work and his Christian ethics. In the end, White signed with Wisconsin's Green Bay Packers. The Packers' offer was the most generous financially, with guaranteed earnings of $17 million over four years. Under the contract White became the most highly paid defender in the NFL and a pioneer in the heady new world of unrestricted free agent contracts.

Joining the Packers for the 1993 season, White left behind good will in Philadelphia, where he played for the Eagles through eight seasons. Philadelphia Daily News correspondent Ray Didinger called White "a man who made a giant impacta symbol of hope, for the Eagles and for the city in general." Didinger added: "White is more than just a superb football player. He is an ordained Baptist minister whose tireless work in the community touched thousands of lives. He is a man who always wore his heart on his extra-long sleeve."

During his years with the Eagles, White had was named annually to play in the Pro Bowl beginning in 1986; he continued the tradition during his years with Green Bay through 1998, to realize the longest consecutive run of Pro Bowl participation on record. When the Packers won the world championship at the Super Bowl in 1997, White set a Super Bowl game record with three quarterback sacks. The Associated Press named White the defensive player of the year for the second time in his career after the 1998 season, and he announced his retirement soon afterward in 1999. Green Bay honored White's retirement by retiring his jersey number, which was 92, and he spent one year out of football and involved in his ministry.

White returned for one final season in the NFL, lured from retirement for the 2000 season by the Carolina Panthers who paid him one million dollars for the effort. He retired for the second time at the end of that season, leaving behind an NFL record of 198 career sacks after 15 seasons of play. White was voted by the NFL Hall of Fame to the NFL All-time Team in 2000.

Retired to Ministry

White's other careercarrying the gospel of Christ to those in needwill last his entire life. He and his wife built Hope Place, a shelter for unwed mothers, on property near their home in rural Tennessee; they also founded the Alpha & Omega Ministry to sponsor a community development bank in Knoxville. "I'm trying to build up black people's morale, self-confidence and self-reliance to show them that the Jesus I'm talking about is real," White explained in Ebony.

One of the most trying moments in White's career in the ministry came in 1996, when his church was burnt to the ground, one of dozens of black churches torched throughout the South in a string of hate crimes. Throughout the off-season that year, White badgered investigators to discover the arsonist, lobbied lawmakersincluding then vice president Al Gore of Tennesseeto speak out against racial violence, and raised money to help his and other black churches throughout the nation. In addition to this work, White pursued missionary work among teenaged gang members, abused children, and young women seeking an alternative to abortion. He also tithed a good portion of his NFL income to several Baptist churches. Reflecting on his work in the Philadelphia Daily News, the "minister of defense" concluded: "The Bible says, 'Faith without works is dead.' That is just another way of saying: 'Put your money where your mouth is.'"

White's life work came to an untimely end on December 26, 2004, when he was rushed to the hospital for what was termed a respiratory illness and soon pronounced dead. According to Jet, family spokesman Keith Johnson stated that White's death "was not only unexpected, but it was also a complete surprise. Reggie wasn't a sick manhe was vibrant. He had lots and lots of energy, lots of passion." In his local church and across the NFL, friends, former players, and fans of White spoke of their sadness at his passing. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued a statement which read in part: "Reggie White was a gentle warrior who will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. Equally as impressive as his achievements on the field was the positive impact he made off the field and the way he served as a positive influence on so many young people."

Selected writings

(With Terry Hill) Reggie White: Minister of Defense, Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991.

(With Jim Denney) Reggie White in the Trenches: The Autobiography, T. Nelson, 1996.

(With Steve Hubbard) God's Playbook: The Bible's Game Plan for Life, T. Nelson, 1998.

Broken Promises, Blinded Dreams: Take Charge of Your Destiny, Treasure House, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 29, 1993, p. TS-5.

Ebony, December 1993, pp. 47-48.

Jet, September 15, 1986; April 26, 1993; January 29, 1996; November 1, 1999; August 21, 2000; March 19, 2001; January 17, 2005.

Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1989, p. C-1.

New York Times, April 7, 1993, p. B-11.

Philadelphia Daily News, June 7, 1991; April 7, 1993; April 8, 1993.

Sporting News, July 12, 1993, p. 30; September 13, 1993, p. 30; July 8, 1996; January 14, 2005, p. 41.

Sports Illustrated, September 3, 1986; November 27, 1989, p. 64; March 15, 1993, p. 20; May 3, 1993; September 2, 1996; January 10, 2005, p. 30.

USA Today, February 11, 1991, p. C-6; August 4, 1993, p. C-8.

Wall Street Journal, August 20, 1993, p. A-9.

Washington Post, March 14, 1993, p. D-4; March 18, 1993, p. C-1.

Mark Kram and

Tom Pendergast

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White, Reggie 1961–

Reggie White 1961

Professional football player, minister, philanthropist

At a Glance

Minister of Defense

Began NFL Career with the Philadelphia Eagles

A Leader On and Off the Field

Joined the Green Bay Packers

Sources

For almost a decade, Reggie White has dominated the National Football League (NFL) as one of its most ferocious defensive players. White, who has never been seriously injured, has struck terror into many an offense with his strength, speed, stamina, and ability to size up situations for maximum impact. Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan once called White the perfect defensive linemanprobably the most gifted defensive athlete Ive ever been around. Curiously enough, Whites singular gift for mayhem begins and ends on the football field. The rest of his time is spent pursuing humanitarian work inspired by his deep Christian faith.

In 1993 White became the best-paid defensive player in football history when he signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay was one of a half dozen teams that bid quite openly for Whites services when the player became an unrestricted free agent after the 1992-93 football season. Joining the Packers for the 1993 season, White left behind good will in Philadelphia, where he played for the Eagles through eight seasons. Philadelphia Daily News correspondent Ray Didinger called White a man who made a giant impact a symbol of hope, for the Eagles and for the city in general. Didinger added: White is more than just a superb football player. He is an ordained Baptist minister whose tireless work in the community touched thousands of lives. He is a man who always wore his heart on his extra-long sleeve.

Reggie White was born and raised in Tennessee. He went to college thereat the University of Tennesseeand he still calls the state home. As a child he lived in Chattanooga, where he was raised by his mother and his grandparents. The family was deeply religious. They attended the local Baptist church regularly, and as a youngster White was inspired by the ministers and teachers he met there. He did not undergo a single, charismatic experience of faith, but rather found his ties to Christianity growing stronger over the entire period of his youth. His mother, Thelma Collier, told Sports Illustrated that when he was 12 years old he announced that he wanted to be two things: a football player and a minister.

Football was a welcome outlet for a young Christian who was teased and goaded by bullies. When I was a child, I was always bigger than the other kids, White told Sports Illustrated. Kids used to call me Bigfoot or Land of the Giant. Theyd tease me and run away. Around seventh grade, I found something I was good at. I could play football, and I could use

At a Glance

Born Reginald Howard White, December 19, 1961, in Chattanooga, TN; son of Charles White and Thelma Dodds Collier; married Sara Copeland, January 5, 1985; children: Jeremy, Jecolia. Education: University of Tennessee, BA, 1983. Religion: Baptist.

Professional football player, 1984. Member of Memphis Showboats (USFL), 1984-85; defensive end for Philadelphia Eagles, 1985-93; defensive end for Green Bay Packers, 1993. Founder, with wife, Sara, and president of Alpha & Omega Ministry, 1988; and Hope Place, 1991. Has also been active in fund-raising and blood drives for Childrens Hospital of Chattanooga and Eagles Fly for Leukemia. Author, with Larry Reid, of The Reggie White Touch Football Playbook: Winning Plays, Rules, and Safety Tips, 1992, Spokesperson for Nike.

Member : Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Selected awards : Named Southeast Conference Player of the Year, 1984; named NFC rookie of the year, 1986; named to NFL Pro Bowl, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992; Pro Bowl MVP, 1987; named defensive player of the year by Pro Football Weekly, 1991; named to 1980s All-Decade Team by Pro Football Weekly, 1991; became the NFLs career leader in quarterback sacks, 1993.

Addresses : Office c/o Green Bay Packers, 1265 Lombardi Ave., Green Bay, WI 54304.

my size and achieve success by playing within the rules. I remember telling my mother that someday I would be a professional football player and Id take care of her for the rest of her life.

Minister of Defense

Whites strength and size indeed seemed to be God-given. He never lifted weights or conditioned himself rigorously, but he was always in shape. At Howard High School in Chattanooga, he played both football and basketball, earning All-America honors in football and all-state honors in basketball. Numerous colleges recruited him, but he chose to stay near home and enrolled at the University of Tennessee, whose team, the Volunteers, were glad to have him. He was a talented and determined athlete who spent his Sundays preaching sermons in churches all over the state. As a senior in 1983, he was a consensus All-American and one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award given annually to the outstanding college lineman. (He did not win.)

During his years with the Volunteers, White earned the nickname minister of defense. The named followed him into his professional career, which began in 1984.

For a while it appeared that Reggie White might never leave Tennessee. After graduating from college he signed a five-year, $4 million contract with the Memphis Showboats, one of the teams in the fledgling United States Football League (USFL). The USFL began as an alternative league for cities starved for professional football action. From the outset it was dwarfed by the better-known, better-staffed National Football League, and soon the upstart teams foundered financially. White viewed this financial instability with concern. He also wanted to prove himself against the best players in the game. He began the 1985 season with the USFL but defected to the Philadelphia Eagles. With his wife, Sarawhom he had met in churchhe ventured north to join the NFL.

Began NFL Career with the Philadelphia Eagles

White took a salary cut in Philadelphia. The Eagles signed him to a four-year, $1.85 million deal after buying out the remaining three years on his Memphis contract. At the time White was still an unproven entity, but his anonymity did not last long. He joined the Eagles after the 1985 season had begun, missing the first few games. When he finally did start, he made ten tackles and two-and-a-half sacks in his very first game. By seasons end he had turned in 13 sacks in as many games, and he was named NFC defensive rookie of the year.

The citizens of Philadelphia soon discovered that they had won the services of more than just a star athlete. I believe that Ive been blessed with physical ability in order to gain a platform to preach the gospel, White told Sports Illustrated. A lot of people look at athletes as role models, and to be successful as an athlete, Ive got to do what I do, hard but fair. I try to live a certain way, and maybe thatll have some kind of effect. I think God has allowed me to have an impact on a few peoples lives. White spent hours and hours of his spare time preaching on street corners in Philadelphias troubled inner-city neighborhoods. He gave money to dozens of Christian outreach organizations and spoke as a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And he led by example. In the rough-and-tumble world of professional football, none of his opponents or teammates could ever recall hearing him curse or seeing him fight.

White blossomed in 1986 with the arrival of Buddy Ryan as the Eagles head coach. Ryan had made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator and had worked with some great lines, including the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. Quickly Ryan assessed Whites potential and built the defense around him. Opponents tried to double- and triple-team White, but still he achieved more than 11 quarterback sacks each season. In his first season under Ryan, he made 18 sacks in 16 games. He was also named Most Valuable Player at the annual Pro Bowl after sacking the opposing quarterback four times in that game. In 1987 he led the league with an NFC-record 21 sacks, and most certainly would have broken the all-time record had the season not been shortened by a players strike.

A Leader On and Off the Field

That players strikea particularly bitter onesaw White emerge as a team leader. As one of the team-voted union representatives, White worked hard to keep his fellow Eagles united in the face of replacement teams and fan apathy. Didinger wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News: One of the more memorable images of that [1987] season was White wearing a picket sign and blocking a bus loaded with replacement players as it attempted to pull into a South Jersey hotel.[White] spoke loudly and passionately about the need for the veterans to stick together. Other teams broke ranks: the Eagles never did.

The hard feelings between White and the Eagles front office probably began to develop during this strike season, intensifying as the years passed, but Whites continued dominance on the field allayed any talk of trade or release. In 1988 he led the NFL in sacks for the second straight year. Between 1989 and 1991 he was joined on the defensive line by several equally ferocious teammates, including Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Jerome Brown. This potent defensewith White still as anchorwas widely considered the best in pro football by 1991.

Observers marveled at the way White roared into every play of every game without ever seeming tired or distracted. White told Sports Illustrated: In high school and college youre taught to hit the ground on a double team. Here youre expected to take it on. I get double-teamed on every play, so I expect it. Sacks are great, and they get you elected to the Pro Bowl. But Ive always felt that a great defensive lineman has to play the run and the pass equally well.The so-called men of the game pride themselves on being complete players.

In 1989 White signed a four-year, $6.1 million contract that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL at the time. The deal came at the tail end of considerable acrimony between White and the Eagles ownership and management. Didinger described the relationship between White and the Eagles brass, headed by owner Norman Braman: They split on so many issuesthe 1987 players strike, the [1990] firing of head coach Buddy Ryan, the [1992] loss of free agent Keith Jacksonthat in the end they had nothing to build on. There was no trust, no goodwill to serve as the foundation for constructive talks. Although he continued to play at the top of his game under new Eagles coach Rich Kotite, White became privately convinced that owner Braman was not pursuing a championship with any great vigor.

As the end of his 1989 contract approached, White grew more and more critical of Braman and his decisions. In the press White suggested that the Eagles training facilities were inadequate. White spoke of the growing chasm between Braman and the Eagles players, using his own chilly relations with the owner as an example. Not surprisingly, White became one of the plaintiffs in a 1992 lawsuit against the NFL ownership to enlarge the powers of free agency.

Unrestricted free agency descended upon the NFL officially on March 1, 1993. Reggie White quickly became the most visibleand sought-afterunrestricted free agent. His contract with the Eagles had expired, and although he claimed that he would not mind staying in Philadelphia, he was not tendered another offer there. Instead he flew to Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Green Bay, New York City, and Washington, D.C., as an all-out war for his services erupted. Everywhere he went he was courted not only by team owners, management, and player personnel, but also by ordinary citizens who had heard about his community work and his Christian ethics. During his visits, White noted that in 16 years as a football player he had never been in a top championship game, and he wanted especially to go to a Super Bowl with a hungry team. This is a great position to be in, he admitted in Sports Illustrated as he was feted in grand style in Cleveland.

Joined the Green Bay Packers

Finally White signed with Green Bay. The Packers offer was the most generous financially, with a guaranteed $17 million over four years. The new contract once again made White the best-paid defender in NFL history and a pioneer in the heady new world of unrestricted free agent contracts. Hopefully, my career can be rejuvenated, White told Jet magazine as he held his new Packers jersey aloft. Since he is past thirtyan old man by NFL standardsWhite will almost certainly end his playing career in Green Bay.

Whites other careercarrying the gospel of Christ to those in needwill last his entire life. He plans a ghetto ministry in Wisconsin while he plays for the Packers. He and his wife have built Hope Place, a shelter for unwed mothers, on property near their home in rural Tennessee; they have also founded the Alpha & Omega Ministry, which will sponsor a community development bank in Knoxville. Im trying to build up black peoples morale, self-confidence and self-reliance to show them that the Jesus Im talking about is real, White explained in Ebony.

Although he has taken a hiatus from the pulpit in order to learn more about the art of preaching, White has continued his missionary work among teenaged gang members, abused children, and young women seeking an alternative to abortion. Hope Place alone has received more than a half million dollars from White, who also tithes a good portion of his NFL income to several Baptist churches. Reflecting on his work in the Philadelphia Daily News, the minister of defense concluded: The Bible says, Faith without works is dead. That is just another way of saying: Put your money where your mouth is.

The Green Bay Packers advanced to the second-round divisional playoffs at the end of the 1993-94 season but were knocked out of Super Bowl contention by a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. That left White with three more years on his record-breaking contract with Green Bayand three more seasons to help take his team to the championships.

Sources

Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 29, 1993, p. TS-5.

Ebony, December 1993, pp. 47-48.

Jet, September 15, 1986; April 26, 1993, p. 46.

Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1989, p. C-l.

New York Times, April 7, 1993, p. B-ll.

Philadelphia Daily News, June 7, 1991; April 7, 1993; April 8, 1993.

Sporting News, July 12, 1993, p. 30; September 13, 1993, p. 30.

Sports Illustrated, September 3, 1986; November 27, 1989, p. 64; March 15, 1993, p. 20; May 3, 1993.

USA Today, February 11, 1991, p. C-6; August 4, 1993, p. C-8.

Wall Street Journal, August 20, 1993, p. A-9.

Washington Post, March 14, 1993, p. D-4; March 18, 1993, p. C-l.

Mark Kram

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White, Reggie

Reggie White

For a decade and a half, Reggie White (1961–2004) dominated the National Football League as one of its most ferocious defensive players. White habitually struck terror into opposing offenses with his great strength, but he also possessed speed, stamina, and the ability to size up situations for maximum impact.

Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan once called White the "perfect defensive lineman … probably the most gifted defensive athlete I've ever been around." After eight seasons with the Eagles, in 1993 White signed a four-year, $17-million contract with the Green Bay Packers; it was an unprecedented amount for a defensive player. Upon his retirement from the NFL in 2001, White was credited with a record 198 career sacks; he had been named to the Pro Bowl an impressive 13 times in succession (although he failed to play in 1994 due to injury). In 1999, the Green Bay Packers retired White's jersey number (92) after his retirement from that team.

Loved His Tennessee Home

White was born on December 19, 1961, and raised in Tennessee. He went to college there—at the University of Tennessee—and he called that state home his entire life. As a child he lived in Chattanooga, where he was raised by his mother and his grandparents. The family was deeply religious; they attended the local Baptist church regularly, and as a youngster White was inspired by the ministers and teachers he met there. He did not undergo a single, charismatic experience of faith, but rather found his ties to Christianity growing stronger over the entire period of his youth. His mother, Thelma Collier, told Sports Illustrated that when he was 12 years old he announced that he wanted to be two things: a football player and a minister.

Football was a welcome outlet for a young Christian who was teased and goaded by bullies. "When I was a child, I was always bigger than the other kids," White told Sports Illustrated. "Kids used to call me Bigfoot or Land of the Giant. They'd tease me and run away. Around seventh grade, I found something I was good at. I could play football, and I could use my size and achieve success by playing within the rules. I remember telling my mother that someday I would be a professional football player and I'd take care of her for the rest of her life."

White's strength and size indeed seemed to be Godgiven. He never lifted weights or conditioned himself rigor-ously, but he was always in shape. At Howard High School in Chattanooga, he played both football and basketball, earning All-America honors in football and all-state honors in basketball. Numerous colleges recruited him, but he chose to stay near home and enrolled at the University of Tennessee, whose team, the Volunteers, were glad to have him. He was a talented and determined athlete who spent his Sundays preaching sermons in churches all over the state. As a senior in 1983, he was a consensus All-American and one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award given annually to the outstanding college lineman. (He did not win.) During his years with the Volunteers, White earned the nickname "minister of defense." The named followed him into his professional career, which began in 1984.

For a while it appeared that White might never leave Tennessee. After graduating from college he signed a five-year, $4 million contract with the Memphis Showboats, one of the teams in the fledgling United States Football League (USFL). The USFL began as an alternative league for cities starved for professional football action. From the outset it was dwarfed by the better-known, better-staffed National Football League, and soon the upstart teams foundered financially. White viewed this financial instability with concern. He also wanted to prove himself against the best players in the game. He began the 1985 season with the USFL but defected to the Philadelphia Eagles. With his wife, Sara—whom he had met in church—he ventured north to join the NFL.

Jumped from USFL to NFL

White took a salary cut in Philadelphia. The Eagles signed him to a four-year, $1.85 million deal after buying out the remaining three years on his Memphis contract. At the time White was still an unproven entity, but his anonymity did not last long. He joined the Eagles after the 1985 season had begun, missing the first few games. When he finally did start, he made ten tackles and two-and-a-half sacks in his very first game. By season's end he had turned in 13 sacks in as many games, and he was named NFC defensive rookie of the year.

Curiously enough, White's singular gift for mayhem began and ended on the gridiron during his 15-year career with the NFL. The rest of his time was always been spent in pursuing humanitarian work inspired by his deep Christian faith. The citizens of Philadelphia soon discovered that they had won the services of more than just a star athlete. "I believe that I've been blessed with physical ability in order to gain a platform to preach the gospel," White told Sports Illustrated. "A lot of people look at athletes as role models, and to be successful as an athlete, I've got to do what I do, hard but fair…. I try to live a certain way, and maybe that'll have some kind of effect. I think God has allowed me to have an impact on a few people's lives." White spent hours and hours of his spare time preaching on street corners in Philadelphia's troubled inner-city neighborhoods. He gave money to dozens of Christian outreach organizations and spoke as a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And he led by example. In the rough-and-tumble world of professional football, none of his opponents or teammates could ever recall hearing him curse or seeing him fight.

White blossomed in 1986 with the arrival of Buddy Ryan as the Eagles' head coach. Ryan had made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator and had worked with some great lines, including the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. Quickly Ryan assessed White's potential and built the defense around him. Opponents tried to double- and triple-team White, but still he achieved more than 11 quarterback sacks each season. In his first season under Ryan, he made 18 sacks in 16 games. He was also named Most Valuable Player at the annual Pro Bowl after sacking the opposing quarterback four times in that game. In 1987 he led the league with an NFC-record 21 sacks, and most certainly would have broken the all-time record had the season not been shortened by a players' strike.

Emerged as Team Leader

That players' strike—a particularly bitter one—saw White emerge as a team leader. As one of the team-voted union representatives, White worked hard to keep his fellow Eagles united in the face of "replacement" teams and fan apathy. Didinger wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News: "One of the more memorable images of that 1987 season was White wearing a picket sign and blocking a bus loaded with replacement players as it attempted to pull into a South Jersey hotel…. [White] spoke loudly and passionately about the need for the veterans to stick together. Other teams broke ranks: the Eagles never did."

The hard feelings between White and the Eagles' front office probably began to develop during this strike season, intensifying as the years passed, but White's continued dominance on the field allayed any talk of trade or release. In 1988 he led the NFL in sacks for the second straight year. Between 1989 and 1991 he was joined on the defensive line by several equally ferocious teammates, including Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Jerome Brown. This potent defense—with White still as anchor—was widely considered the best in pro football by 1991.

Observers marveled at the way White roared into every play of every game without ever seeming tired or distracted. White told Sports Illustrated: "In high school and college you're taught to hit the ground on a double team. Here you're expected to take it on. I get double-teamed on every play, so I expect it. Sacks are great, and they get you elected to the Pro Bowl. But I've always felt that a great defensive lineman has to play the run and the pass equally well…. The so-called men of the game pride themselves on being complete players."

In 1989 White signed a four-year, $6.1 million contract that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL at the time. The deal came at the tail end of considerable acrimony between White and the Eagles' ownership and management. Didinger described the relationship between White and the Eagles' brass, headed by owner Norman Braman: "They split on so many issues—the 1987 players' strike, the 1990 firing of head coach Buddy Ryan, the 1992 loss of free agent Keith Jackson—that in the end they had nothing to build on. There was no trust, no goodwill to serve as the foundation for constructive talks." Although he continued to play at the top of his game under new Eagles coach Rich Kotite, White became privately convinced that owner Braman was not pursuing a championship with any great vigor.

As the end of his 1989 contract approached, White grew more and more critical of Braman and his decisions. In the press White suggested that the Eagles' training facilities were inadequate. White spoke of the growing chasm between Braman and the Eagles players, using his own chilly relations with the owner as an example. Not surprisingly, White became one of the plaintiffs in a 1992 lawsuit against the NFL ownership to enlarge the powers of free agency.

Joined the Packers

Unrestricted free agency descended upon the NFL officially on March 1, 1993. Reggie White quickly became the most visible—and sought-after—unrestricted free agent after the 1992–93 football season. His contract with the Eagles had expired, and although he claimed that he would not mind staying in Philadelphia, he was not tendered another offer there. As it happened, Green Bay was one of a half dozen teams that bid quite openly for White's services at that time. He flew to Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Green Bay, New York City, and Washington, D.C., as an all-out war erupted to sign the powerful defensive end. Everywhere he went he was courted not only by team owners, management, and player personnel, but also by ordinary citizens who had heard about his community work and his Christian ethics. In the end, White signed with Wisconsin's Green Bay Packers. The Packers' offer was the most generous financially, with guaranteed earnings of $17 million over four years. Under the contract White became the most highly paid defender in the NFL and a pioneer in the heady new world of unrestricted free agent contracts.

Joining the Packers for the 1993 season, White left behind good will in Philadelphia, where he played for the Eagles through eight seasons. Philadelphia Daily News correspondent Ray Didinger called White "a man who made a giant impact … a symbol of hope, for the Eagles and for the city in general." Didinger added: "White is more than just a superb football player. He is an ordained Baptist minister whose tireless work in the community touched thousands of lives. He is a man who always wore his heart on his extra-long sleeve."

During his years with the Eagles, White had was named annually to play in the Pro Bowl beginning in 1986; he continued the tradition during his years with Green Bay through 1998, to realize the longest consecutive run of Pro Bowl participation on record. When the Packers won the world championship at the Super Bowl in 1997, White set a Super Bowl game record with three quarterback sacks. The Associated Press named White the defensive player of the year for the second time in his career after the 1998 season, and he announced his retirement soon afterward in 1999. Green Bay honored White's retirement by retiring his jersey number, which was 92, and he spent one year out of football and involved in his ministry.

White returned for one final season in the NFL, lured from retirement for the 2000 season by the Carolina Panthers who paid him one million dollars for the effort. He retired for the second time at the end of that season, leaving behind an NFL record of 198 career sacks after 15 seasons of play. White was voted by the NFL Hall of Fame to the NFL All-time Team in 2000.

Retired to Ministry

White's other career—carrying the gospel of Christ to those in need—lasted his entire life. He and his wife built Hope Place, a shelter for unwed mothers, on property near their home in rural Tennessee; they also founded the Alpha & Omega Ministry to sponsor a community development bank in Knoxville. "I'm trying to build up black people's morale, self-confidence and self-reliance to show them that the Jesus I'm talking about is real," White explained in Ebony.

One of the most trying moments in White's career in the ministry came in 1996, when his church was burnt to the ground, one of dozens of black churches torched throughout the South in a string of hate crimes. Throughout the off-season that year, White badgered investigators to discover the arsonist, lobbied lawmakers—including then vice president Al Gore of Tennessee—to speak out against racial violence, and raised money to help his and other black churches throughout the nation. In addition to this work, White pursued missionary work among teenaged gang members, abused children, and young women seeking an alternative to abortion. He also tithed a good portion of his NFL income to several Baptist churches. Reflecting on his work in the Philadelphia Daily News, the "minister of defense" concluded: "The Bible says, 'Faith without works is dead.' That is just another way of saying: 'Put your money where your mouth is.'"

White's life work came to an untimely end on December 26, 2004, when he was rushed to the hospital for what was termed a respiratory illness and soon pronounced dead. According to Jet, family spokesman Keith Johnson stated that White's death "was not only unexpected, but it was also a complete surprise. Reggie wasn't a sick man … he was vibrant. He had lots and lots of energy, lots of passion." In his local church and across the NFL, friends, former players, and fans of White spoke of their sadness at his passing. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued a statement which read in part: "Reggie White was a gentle warrior who will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. Equally as impressive as his achievements on the field was the positive impact he made off the field and the way he served as a positive influence on so many young people."

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 29, 1993.

Ebony, December 1993.

Jet, September 15, 1986; April 26, 1993; January 29, 1996; November 1, 1999; August 21, 2000; March 19, 2001; January 17, 2005.

Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1989.

New York Times, April 7, 1993.

Philadelphia Daily News, June 7, 1991; April 7, 1993; April 8, 1993.

Sporting News, July 12, 1993; September 13, 1993; July 8, 1996; January 14, 2005.

Sports Illustrated, September 3, 1986; November 27, 1989; March 15, 1993; May 3, 1993; September 2, 1996; January 10, 2005.

USA Today, February 11, 1991; August 4, 1993.

Wall Street Journal, August 20, 1993.

Washington Post, March 14, 1993; March 18, 1993.

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White, Reggie

Reggie White

1961-

American football player

Defensive end Reggie White, known as the "Minister of Defense," was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1988. He was a Pro Bowl player 13 consecutive seasons from 1986 to 1998 and he is football's career sacks leader with 68½. In 1997 and 1998, he helped take the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl, coming away with a victory in Super Bowl XXXI. A devoutly religious man, White has been as controversial off the field as he was tremendous in the huddle.

A Football Player and a Minister

White grew up in the housing projects of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was raised by his mother; he barely knew his father, but his mother remarried and White's stepfather helped raise him. When he was 12, White told his mother that he wanted to be a football player and a minister. He attended a Baptist church and

began preaching at age 17. He combined his religious fervor with a drive to compete and a gift of athletic talent; he was an All-American player in his senior season at the University of Tennessee, and then spent two years playing with the Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League (USFL). In 1985, he joined the Philadelphia Eagles. In 1992, White was ordained as a nondenominational minister.

White played with the Philadelphia Eagles for eight seasons. In every one of those seasons he recorded double-digit sack numbers, with a high of 21 in 1987. He became one of the most feared players in the NFL and a nightmare to quarterbacks, averaging 15.5 sacks per season. White and his wife, Sara, were also deeply involved in a ministry in the housing projects of north Philadelphia. White, Sara, and some of White's Eagles teammates often spent Friday nights in the projects, and on weekdays, White often went back to lead Bible studies, to volunteer at church councils, and to assist at fundraising events.

In 1993, White was eligible to be a free-agent. Many NFL teams joined in the bidding for the superstar defensive lineman. When Norman Braman, owner of the Eagles, refused to pay White the salary he wanted in order to prevent him from leaving as a free agent, thousands of fans rallied to try and convince Braman to pay. He wouldn't, and at a farewell luncheon, White cried as over 300 fans gave him a lengthy standing ovation. Finally, he said tearfully, "I didn't give up on the Eagles. It seems as though the Eagles gave up on me," according to Johnette Howard in Sports Illustrated.

After leaving the Eagles, White set out on a seven-city tour, lasting 37 days, looking for a position. He wanted to go to a contending team, but it had to be a team where he could continue his inner-city ministry. However, when the Green Bay Packersthen a mediocre team, and a team based in the smallest city in the leagueoffered him a four-year, $17-millon contract, White accepted. Braman, hearing of this, scoffed at White's decision, saying, according to Howard, that it "wasn't made by a ghetto or by God. It was going to be made for the reason most human beings make decisions today, money." The comment troubled White, who did not like his integrity to be questioned. He told Howard, "How dare he speak for what was in my heart? He doesn't know me."

Packers fans, however, were delighted to have White on the team. Almost 2,000 of them attended his first day of training camp. The year before, the Packers had had a 9-7 season, but White was hopeful about great days for the team in the future.

In 1993, the Packers were 9-7 again, but won a playoff game. The team's defense, which had ranked 23rd the year before, finished second in the league. Coach Mike Holmgren told Howard that White was the reason: "Reggie has changed everythingthe way we play, the other team's offensive scheme."

In 1995, the Packers advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game, which they lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 38-27. On the plane home, Howard reported, White told Holmgren, "Coach, I've never been this far. I just want to thank you."

In the locker room, White, nicknamed "the Minister of Defense," was known for giving advice to younger players, as well as for his habit of calling player meetings; safety LeRoy Butler told Howard, "He calls more meetings than Congress." Butler also noted that during their shared rides to practice, White would only listen to gospel music. Another teammate, tight end Keith Jackson, commented on White's tendency to see every event as a divine message, saying, "The walk with God that Reggie has is almost, you know, scary." His choice to join the Packers came after a night of prayer, asking for guidance. "And the Lord spoke to me," he told Howard. One factor in his decision might have been the fact that Holmgren called and left a message on his machine, saying, "Reggie, this is God. Go to Green Bay," according to Paul Attner in the Sporting News.

When White sustained an elbow injury in 1994, a thigh bruise in 1995, and a hamstring injury in 1995, he believed God had healed him. He almost missed the 1995 playoffs because of the hamstring injury, but it healed in time for him to play. On the field, he often ruthlessly knocked over opponents during play, but once a play was over, he helped them up, saying "Jesus loves you."

A Church Burning

In addition to playing football, White became an associate pastor at an evangelical church in an inner-city area of Knoxville, Tennessee. With a congregation of about 450, the church focused on community development; members rebuilt condemned houses for resale to low-income people, and also built homes that low-income people could afford. The church also ran an AM radio station with religious programming, and planned to create a daycare center. White donated $1 million to the project, and in 1994 the church opened an investment bank, which makes loans to people who couldn't qualify for traditional bank loans. The bank also run seminars in job skills and financial planning, and provides credit to small-business owners. White told Howard that the church's goal was to "get people off welfare and help them become tax-paying citizens." White and his wife also opened a home for unwed mothers on their own property, near their home.

Chronology

1961 Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee
1979-83 Plays for University of Tennessee
1983-84 Plays with Memphis Showboats of USFL
1985 Signs with Philadelphia Eagles
1993 Leaves Eagles; signed by Green Bay Packers
1996 Inner City Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, where White was assistant pastor, is burned to the ground as a result of arson
1997 Helps Packers win Super Bowl XXXI
1998 Loses potential job at CBS Sports after making remarks about homosexuality and race
1999 Retires from play; Packers retire his number, 92
2000 Comes back to play for Carolina Panthers

Awards and Accomplishments

1986-98 Pro Bowl player
1997 Green Bay Packers win Super Bowl
1997-98 Named top defensive player in NFL
1998 Associated Press Player of the Year
1999 Green Bay Packers retire his number, 92

On January 8, 1996, White's church was burned to the ground; someone had placed kerosene, gunpowder, and several Molotov cocktails in the church, lit them, and fled, leaving racist graffiti behind. The burning angered White, and aroused him to speak on television, radio, and in print about the event, as well as several other church-burnings that had occurred. He and his family subsequently received racist letters and a bomb threat that later turned out to be a hoax. White told Howard, "[I'm] willing to die for the things I believe in." White, who often refers to civil rights history, insists that the African-American struggle against slavery and racism should be remembered. "If you remember it" he told Howard, "then you begin to say, 'This can't happen anymore.'" And, he commented, "Then you'll begin to understand why I hurt like I hurt. And why I get so mad." After the burning, White's church moved to a nearby high school auditorium; by June of 1996, more than $250,000 had been donated to help the church rebuild.

In 1997, White finally realized his one last NFL feat. The Packers defeated the New England Patriots 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI. White was a terror on defense, recording three sacks and hurrying Patriots quarterback into four interceptions. Green Bay repeated as NFC champions the next season, but lost in Super Bowl XXXII to the Denver Broncos.

In 1998, White lost a chance to work as a commentator at CBS Sports when he made remarks about homosexuality and race that many people found offensive. According to an article in Jet, CBS Sports spokesperson said, "CBS has a hard and fast policy against bias at all times." When asked about the event later, White said, "Forget about me. I don't need your money."

Retired from Play

In 1997 and 1998, White was named the top defensive player in the NFL. In 1998, he had led the NFL in sacks, with 16, and was also voted Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. After that season he told a reporter from Jet that he was retiring from play due to several nagging injuries. In November of 1999, White was honored when the Packers retired his number, 92, from play. In 2000, White returned to play when he signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers; he played with the team for one year.

In an interview in Sports Illustrated for Kids, White advised, "Sometimes, being a leader means that you have to become independent of everybody. That's not easy. But you have to stand up for what you believe in, even if you're standing alone."

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: 325 N. Roosevelt Street, Green Bay, WI 54301. Fax: 920-448-6460 ext. 298. Online: www.urbanhopegb.org.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY WHITE:

(With Larry Reid) The Reggie White Touch Football Playbook: Winning Plays, Rule, and Safety Tips, Warrenton Press, 1991.

(With Terry Hill) Reggie White: Minister of Defense, Word Publishing, 1991.

(With Jim Denney) In the Trenches: The Autobiography, Thomas Nelson, 1997.

(With Steve Hubbard) God's Playbook: The Bible's Game Plan for Life, Thomas Nelson, 1998.

Career Statistics

Tackles Fumbles Interceptions
Yr Team Tot Solo Ast Sack FF BK Int TD
CAR: Carolina Panthers; GB: Green Bay Packers; PHI: Philadelphia Eagles.
1985 PHI 100 62 38 13.0 0 0 0 0
1986 PHI 98 83 15 18.0 1 0 0 0
1987 PHI 76 62 14 21.0 4 0 0 0
1988 PHI 133 96 37 18.0 1 0 0 0
1989 PHI 123 82 41 11.0 3 0 0 0
1990 PHI 83 59 24 14.0 4 0 1 0
1991 PHI 100 72 28 15.0 2 0 1 0
1992 PHI 81 54 27 14.0 3 0 0 0
1993 GB 79 48 31 13.0 3 0 0 0
1994 GB 49 40 9 8.0 2 0 0 0
1995 GB 42 32 10 12.0 2 0 0 0
1996 GB 39 30 9 8.5 3 1 1 0
1997 GB 46 36 10 11.0 0 0 0 0
1998 GB 47 36 11 16.0 4 0 0 0
2000 CAR 16 15 1 5.5 1 0 0 0
TOTAL 1111 793 318 198.0 33 0 3 0

(With Andrew Peyton Thomas) Fighting the Good Fight: America's "Minister of Defense" Stands Firm on What It Takes to Win God's Way, Thomas Nelson, 1999.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Attner, Paul. "As for Me and My House, We Will Serve the Lord." Sporting News, July 8, 1996: 40.

Attner, Paul. "Confronting the Lombardi Legend." Sporting News, January 27, 1997: 12.

Howard, Johnette. "Up From the Ashes." Sports Illustrated, September 2, 1996: 140.

"Reggie White Rejects Criticism for His Remarks about Homosexuality and Race." Jet, April 13, 1998: 55.

"Sackman!" Sports Illustrated for Kids, January, 1997:24.

"Terrell Davis, Reggie White Named Top Offensive and Defensive Players in NFL." Jet, January 25, 1999: 48.

Other

"Heads, Carolina." CNNSI.com, http://www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/ (July 21, 2000).

"Reggie White." ESPN.org. http://football.espn.go.com/ (January 5, 2003).

Urban Hope. http://www.urbanhopegb.org/ (January 5, 2003).

Sketch by Carol Brennan

Where Is He Now?

In 1997, Reggie and Sara White founded Urban Hope, a nonprofit program based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It encourages growth in Green Bay and the surrounding Brown County by helping entrepreneurs launch new businesses. Applicants do not have to fit into any particular categories of race or income; the program is for everyone. The Whites live in the Green Bay area. In addition to raising their two children, Jeremy and Jecolia, they have also raised several foster children.

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