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Childhood experience moves Cowboys' Witten to help domestic abuse victims
Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009
By Joshua Cooley

DALLAS (BP)--Jason Witten remembers the pain.

He remembers the screaming. He remembers the confusion, the doubt and all the other terrible consequences of domestic violence. He doesn’t want others to experience what he did growing up. So he’s doing something about it.

While many NFL players occasionally throw a requisite bone to charities to satisfy their team’s public relations staff, Witten is the rare breed who cherishes self-sacrifice. He devotes untold hours to a myriad of different organizations, mostly involving children, the underprivileged and survivors of shattered homes. He also recently started his own foundation, S.C.O.R.E., which supports families in crisis.

“I’m trying to break the cycle of family violence,” he said.

Witten, 26, the Dallas Cowboys’ six-year veteran and one of the best tight ends in the NFL, grew up with an abusive father in the greater Washington, D.C. area. When Jason was 11, his mother, Kim, relocated her three sons to Elizabethton, Tenn., to live with her father, Dave Rider. There, Jason experienced true a model of true biblical manhood from his grandfather, who was also his football coach at Elizabethton High School. Eventually, Kim became a Christian, as well.

“It’s amazing how God works in our lives,” said Jason, whose Cowboys finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs this season.

Even though his NFL career consumes a large portion of his life, Witten’s spiritual calling is never far from his mind. He launched S.C.O.R.E. (which stands for “Support, Community, Overcome, Rebuild, Educate”) in December 2007 to assist several non-profit organizations in Texas and Tennessee in preventing domestic abuse and helping victims recover.

The foundation’s first event, a Christmas party at a family entertainment park, raised support for 30 clients of The Family Place, a large domestic violence shelter in the Dallas area. In September, thanks to a $100,000 donation from the Allstate Foundation, Witten teamed with the Texas Council on Family Violence to make a public service announcement on TV.

He has been chugging full steam in charitable work ever since his first NFL season. As a member of the 2003 Cowboys Rookie Club, he made visits to Dallas-area charities like the ChildCareGroup and Voice of Hope Ministries. He also is involved with the Salvation Army, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the United Way, and each summer he runs a large youth football camp in Elizabethton. In 2007, he was one of four finalists for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Witten placed his faith in Christ in 10th grade during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes church retreat in Nashville. He and his wife, Michelle, have been married five years and attend Pastor Ed Young’s large Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. Jason admits he has learned much from Michelle and the godly family she was raised in – a luxury he didn’t have as a child.

“My wife is so strong in her faith and is such a follower of Christ,” he said. “Having her beside me encourages me. It’s neat to experience the [Christian] walk with her.”

The Wittens have two young boys, C.J. and Cooper, who consistently inspire Jason to be the kind of father figure he lacked early on. They also provide living proof of the benefits of a loving family structure, which he is trying to support through his foundation.

“It’s about being a man and a role model,” said Witten, who claims he holds no grudge against his father. “We take in not just the mothers involved [in domestic abuse] but the children affected by it. That’s something we’re really active in, and also underprivileged children as a whole. God has blessed me enough to do it because of the game I play.”

It’s a game he plays remarkably well. A can’t-miss prospect since high school, the 6-foot-5, 266-pound bulldozer played linebacker and defensive end before finding his true calling at tight end at the University of Tennessee. There, he earned All-Southeastern Conference honors as a junior after setting single-season school records at the position in catches (39) and receiving yards (493).

The Cowboys drafted him in the third round (69th overall) after his junior year, and since then, his career has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory. He has averaged 918 yards and nearly five touchdowns a season since 2004. In 2007, he enjoyed a career year with first-team All-Pro numbers. His 96 catches and 1,145 receiving yards established Cowboys records, and his seven touchdowns marked a career high.

“I was very humbled by it because there are so many great tight ends,” he said. “It was obviously a great experience. It was rewarding because you put so much effort in it and to see it pay off … I have a lot of great players around me.”

Witten enjoyed another sterling year this year. He finished the season with 79 catches for 952 yards and four touchdowns and made his fifth straight Pro Bowl appearance. All this comes despite a broken rib he suffered in Week 8, an ankle sprain in Week 16, and the media circus surrounding teammate Terrell Owens’ alleged complaint in mid-December that Witten and quarterback Tony Romo were scheming plays to deny Owens the ball.

As he prepares for a long offseason, Witten will have time to reflect on all he has accomplished so far. But he knows that introspection as a football player isn’t what he needs most; it’s introspection as a follower of Christ.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I’m nowhere near where I want to be at. I fall every day. It’s the challenge of being closer to God. I need to grow every day, and I believe I am.”

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