Cowboys defensive back Brandon Carr may not have been one of the players selected for the Pro Bowl in recognition for his play during the 2015 season, but the 29-year-old veteran from Flint, Mich., definitely had another All-Pro campaign in his efforts to help others.
Carr was one of the 32 players, one from each team, who were selected for the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, an honor that recognizes a player for his excellence on and off the field who has made a significant impact in his community. Several years ago, he started the Carr Cares Foundation to "inspire young students to become proficient readers by providing learning tools and resources to help them reach their full potential." In addition, the foundation also encourages students to live a healthy lifestyle through physical fitness and balanced nutrition.
"(Being nominated) means a lot to me and for my foundation because it's something I feel strongly about," said Carr. "It goes back to something my parents (John and Kathy Carr) instilled in me at a young age – to give back to the community. I'm always trying to find a way to inspire and motivate the young people who look up to us."
His focus on education is stirred by Carr's mother, who taught school in Michigan for 33 years. Kathy retired due to a prolonged battle with breast cancer, a battle she unfortunately lost on July 30, 2014 at the age of 59.
"My mom was the youngest of seven, and she taught school for half her life before she had to fight her battle with cancer," said Carr. "Even while fighting cancer she was in the classroom with her 'babies,' as she called them."
As a youngster, Carr remembers listening in on the conversations his mom would have with her sisters, Brenda Spencer and Mildred Robinson, who were also educators.
"I would eavesdrop on conversations between my mom and my aunts and they were always talking about education," said Carr. "I realized that the same way I eat, drink and sleep football, it's the same for them about education. They loved education the same way I love football. It's the same passion."
Carr's dad worked in the auto industry and like his wife, instilled the message in all of his children to make sure they helped those less fortunate. The Carr Cares focus on living a healthy lifestyle is a tribute to John's work with youth athletes and the example he set.
Carr also credits veterans like Brian Waters for mentoring him when he started his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Waters was the league's NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2009.
Getting his NFL career off to a good start was obviously a top priority, but the desire to give back started when Carr was a student at Grand Valley State in his native Michigan.
"Initially, I was trying to find my niche in the community. For a long time I wanted to be a pediatrician. I was pre-med when I started school, but it was tough to keep up with the classes with football," said Carr. "Once I started to dive into the issues of child literacy, the statistics were alarming, especially as you get closer to your own community. Kids were being left behind. In some schools, only 20 percent of the kids were reading at their own grade level. That leaves 80 percent who are not. That turns you off if you're a student. With the foundation, the vision is clear – try and set up the resources to allow students to become efficient readers."
The foundation splits its services between where Carr currently lives and the area where he grew up.
"Flint is where I was born and raised, so of course the foundation is set up back at home. But I've spent four years in the Dallas area, so Dallas is my home too," said Carr. "It's a little easier to be involved in Dallas because I'm here all the time, but both areas have a lot of opportunities to help kids."
In addition to his work with his own foundation, Carr is very active in the Dallas Cowboys' community outreach. He serves as the team's NFL PLAY 60 Challenge ambassador with the American Heart Association, not only kicking off the program, but also personally adopting two Dallas ISD elementary schools to help work through the PLAY 60 Challenge, which includes incentives from Carr Cares.
The Brandon Carr Elite Football & Cheerleading Camp has hosted over 300 student-athletes in both Michigan and Texas, with boys and girls taking part in fundamentals instruction as well as character development, teamwork and community service discussions.
During the 2015 bye week, Carr teamed with the United Way of Genesee County to provide three reading centers to elementary schools in Flint. And, he is also developing after-school programs that will offer tutoring, mentoring and activities for students. After teaming with a group of expert educators, Carr Cares is working to put together "Ready to Read" Fun Kits to help parents engage in reading activities with their children.
Still, there's more. For Thanksgiving, Carr was responsible for providing dinners to 160 families through the YMCA Park South in Dallas as part of a partnership with NFL Hall of Famer and former Dallas Cowboy Charles Haley. Then for Christmas, Carr teamed with the Men at Work Organization to host the largest holiday gathering in the Flint area to benefit Toys for Tots, The Salvation Army and others.
"There are so many areas that can be affected by the foundation in regards to any type of tools to address literacy," said Carr. "There are different factors that need attention to survive, so education often takes a backseat. Through the foundation, we can help emphasize the importance of education and reading in general. It gives you more power to take control of your life."[embeddedad0]
With this season certainly did not go as planned for the Cowboys, Carr has not let that disappointment deter him from his work. He also likes that his efforts in the community have taken the focus off the negative publicity surrounding the team's play and instead shed some light on the good NFL players do throughout the league.
"I've thought long and hard about my legacy and what I want my foundation to stand for," said Carr. "There are always opportunities to do more and make our foundations larger, but everybody has different visions about how to make a difference in their communities. There are lots of players individually who do their part. I'm happy that we get recognized for this prestigious award because it shows that there are a lot of guys in the NFL who are passionate about their communities and do a lot on a daily basis."
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett believes Carr's work in helping others can serve as a role model to the younger guys on the team, and is well deserving of his being recognized as Dallas' candidate for the award.
"I think Carr is a special guy. I think he's just an outstanding person both on and off the field. He's a great example to the rest of our players about how to go about it in a professional manner," said Garrett. "He's very involved off the field with a variety of different charities and, again, a very good example to the rest of us for how to conduct your life outside of football. I think he's a very worthy recipient of that nomination, and we certainly hope he gets it."
Carr is also very aware of how his mother felt about the efforts of her children to make a difference in the lives of others.
"She always took great pride in who her sons were off the field rather than what they accomplished on the field. She made sure our heads were in the right place, and she was always in tune with things," said Carr. "She was always more concerned about how our grades were and where our heads were at and how we treated our significant other. She knew I was a product of the environment her and my father created for me."