SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Ronnie Lott likes to tackle problems, especially for underprivileged kids.
The four-time Super Bowl champ started All-Stars Helping Kids back in 1989 with the goal of breaking the poverty cycle for San Francisco’s youth.
Since then, Lott’s helped raise over 10 million dollars for hundreds of organizations across the country like re:Work – a Chicago-based company led by Shelton Banks whose Bay Area Program provides free career training and job placement in the tech world for Black and LatinX candidates.
“It’s really simple. As a kid, I used to go sell. I had to sell candy to get a helmet. All we’re doing is teaching people how to sell.
“There are so many people that need people of color on their teams. It’s about not just creating balance. It’s about also creating ways to make sure that people participate because the huddle is always better when you have diverse individuals, who bring different skills, different hunger, different attitudes and different values.”
Lott was a leader on and off the field with the 49ers, sacrificing his body on every bone-crushing hit. He even opted to amputate the tip of his pinkie finger at the end of the 1985 season instead having surgery so that he wouldn’t miss the playoffs.
“You know what’s interesting to me about those kind of moments is nobody really talks you out of it because nobody wants you to be denied. They only want you to know what you can do. I’ve seen a number of people who have played in this National Football League and have played through a number of injuries. It’s all due to, in their minds, what you’re committed to do. The mantra of life – we all have different mantras – I’m a firm believer ‘exhaust every moment.'”
He not only says it. He wears it, too. The saying is carved into a bracelet he dons every day, embodying the mentality he took the field with.
“That mentality is the mentality that Jim Brown had. It’s the mentality that ‘Mean’ Joe Greene had. The mentality that your pops had,” Lott told Jarrett Payton. “We’re put on this earth for a reason. I think what’s great about those kind of people is that those kind of people will show you what they’re all about.
“Then, all of a sudden, you get a guy like Jerry Rice that comes on your team. Then you go, ‘Okay. Not only do I have to live it. Everyday he’s bringing it. Jerry Rice was a great role model because if he can run routes like he ran routes. If he can do rat, tat, tat before he goes out of bounds. Every time he went out of bounds, he goes rata, tat, tat. We have to bring that to All-Stars Helping Kids because that’s what we count on. We count on making sure that we do all we can to exhaust the moments of life.”
Lott’s journey to the Hall of Fame took him from cornerback to safety with eight All-Pro selections in all.
“When I look back at playing corner then moving to safety, I knew eventually when I got to the safety spot, I knew I could be like Willie Mays. I literally felt like I could be Willie Mays because after playing corner I could then see everything.
“I think what’s great for me, when I look back on life, is yeah football was amazing, but this? When you have a kid walk up to you and he says, ‘Remember me?’ And the kids tells you about now he’s working at HP. You go, ‘You were the kid went to that school that we funded and you’re now at HP?’ Imagine that journey that he made that changed his life. I can assure you that the journey that we’ve been making since then, hopefully, has been able to help a lot of kids change their lives. That’s what an All-Star does. An All-Star tries to find ways to lift people up.”