The 82nd General Meeting Opening Remarks
Football Great Hines Ward
The following presentation was delivered at the 82nd General Meeting Monday morning session, May 13, by football great Hines Ward. It has been edited for content and phrasing.
To say Hines Ward is a champion is an understatement. Through 14 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, our speaker became the team's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yardage, and touchdown receptions. During this time he was named to the NFL Pro Bowl four times and was elected Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. Over his career, the name Hines Ward has appeared in NFL record books countless times. His streak of 186 consecutive games with at least one reception per game reflects Mr. Ward's reputation as being among the National Football League's most dependable and durable players. In addition to being one of the NFL's premier receivers, Mr. Ward was also considered one of the league's most feared blockers who consistently demonstrated incomparable grit and determination.
Before his retirement from the Steelers in 2012, Mr. Ward again distinguished himself with partner Kym Johnson as Season 12 champions of the popular TV dance competition, Dancing with the Stars. Born in Seoul, South Korea, to a Korean mother and African-American father, Mr. Ward was raised by his mother while growing up in the Atlanta area. He was the first Korean-American and only the second foreign-born player to win the coveted Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award. In 2006, Mr. Ward returned to his birthplace of Seoul for the first time since leaving Korea at the age of one. During his visit, he donated one million dollars to create the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation, an organization to help fight discrimination in South Korea against mixed-race children like himself.
Following retirement, Mr. Ward joined NBC Sports in the role of football analyst for Sunday Night Football. Mr. Ward made his movie debut as a member of the fictional Gotham Rogues football team in the movie The Dark Knight Rises.
I want to thank the National Board and ASME for having me here in Miami.
I'm very blessed and honored to have played 14 years, my whole career, for the Pittsburgh Steelers – a great organization. And over the 14 years, it's been a great ride. I compare my life to a modern-day version of Forrest Gump. I can't explain the path that God has for me. I’ve had many opportunities: playing in Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, being named Super Bowl MVP, doing the Batman movie and Dancing with the Stars, Rachael Ray’s Guys Celebrity Cooking Show, and I even did a Head and Shoulders commercial, and I don't even have hair on my head.
And now that I'm retired, I joined NBC and I'm very blessed to be alongside Bob Costas, who is one of the most intellectual persons I have ever met in my life. He’s tiny in stature, but he has a beautiful mind. So I'm honored to be up there with him. And I'm glad to be here today to talk to you about the importance of preparation, determination, and attention to detail, all of which enabled me to play in three Super Bowls. I think you can apply all three of those phases to any work environment or workplace.
Preparation is everything to me in the sense that it's like having an answer to the test. As a football player, you can anticipate the next move if you are well prepared. I wasn't six-foot-three and I didn't have the Mike Wallace blazing speed out there, so I had to understand coverages better. And it helped me get open when I was on the football field, because I already knew what the defense was playing. I understood the coverage. That's because I was prepared. I went throughout the whole week watching film, understanding, and asking the defensive coordinator what I needed to do.
Having that understanding allowed me to play for many years. I had an opportunity to play early because I was one of those players who took time after practice to prepare myself to go on a field and play at my optimal level.
And let's talk about determination. I have always been a determined person because I was so scared of failure. With Dancing with the Stars, there I was: a kid who grew up in probably not the nicest neighborhood dancing the paso doble in Hollywood. I have come a long way. And I remember in the first episode, we did the cha-cha. And they said, “Hines Ward and Kym Johnson doing the cha-cha,” and literally I had a heat flash that took over my body. I almost passed out. Kym had to grab me, like, “come on.” Then once the music started going, I just went with it. But the fear of failure and putting myself out there for the world to see was so overwhelming and the anxieties were so strong that I almost passed out on live television.
My goal of going on Dancing with the Stars was to not be the first guy eliminated off the show. I didn't have a high goal of going there to win. When I told my supporting cast – from my mother to Coach Tomlin to my teammates, “Hey, I'm going to be on Dancing with the Stars,” – they said things like, “What in the world are you thinking? You don't know how to dance.” So I didn't have a lot of support from my staff. Not, even my mom. My own mom was like, “Boy, you can't dance at all. What are you thinking?” Well, gee, mom thanks. Way to encourage your son to put himself out there.
But I had the determination to try to be the best that I could be. I may not be the fastest, I may not be the tallest, but I have the heart of a lion. I want to go out there and I want to prove to all the naysayers that I can.
And I love challenges in life. I just signed up for an ironman competition, which is the craziest thing that I have ever done. It is 140.6 miles all in one day. Most people start off with a half marathon or a full marathon and then work their way up. But not me. I want to go straight to the top.
The ironman is coming along (I compete in Kona on October 12th) and I'm learning a lot about who I am as a person. I challenge you – if there is something you want to do, strive to get – want to be better at, then get up and do it. The mind is a beautiful thing, and with the ironman competition, I don't have you guys – you guys can't vote me to the finish line. Crossing the finish line is all mind over matter. And growing up as a child, my mother always taught me that when you start something, finish it. And that's what I'm starting to find out, who I am as a person competing in the ironman.
And now we are going to talk about attention to detail. To me, this more than anything helped me perform my best and play fast. I see all the rookies reporting to camps and it's like starting over. Here they are as seniors and juniors in college and they know the plays and the routines, but when they get into the NFL camps, it's like, “oh, my God, the plays,” and now they are doing a lot more thinking and less reacting. So you see a lot of rookies who are slow, because when you are working, if you don't really understand the details of a play or the details of a machine, it's going to cut back on time for you to go out there and finish the task that you have to do.
Attention to detail to me is the secret ingredient. It enabled me to play at a higher level and to play fast. And to be able to do that, all it takes is repetition. The more reps you've got, the more comfortable you become, and it allows you to go out there and play as fast as you possibly can. And if you don't, the NFL means "not for long." For a lot of rookies, if you don't catch on, you won't be playing in the NFL for that long. And if you don't have attention to detail, guess what, there is somebody else who is willing to put the time and effort into it, and somehow they are going to find their way into your position.
So I challenge all of you to really get better each day at work. When I stepped onto the practice field, I always wanted to take a step forward. I always had a great attitude in the sense that I didn't like hanging around negative people and people telling me what I can't do. You might work for people who are always negative and who don’t want to give you encouragement or pat you on the back when you’ve done something. Or they always complain about their lives. I try to stay away from those people and rather associate myself with encouraging people who will help push me to another level.
I have a great supporting cast. They have supported my activities outside of football, such as with Dancing with the Stars. Even though they said, “you can't dance,” they were right there in the stands supporting me and waving the Terrible Towel. And that's what enabled me. If you guys don't understand what the Terrible Towel means, then you are not a part of Steeler Nation. Seeing all of the Terrible Towels when I came into the ballroom gave me a comfort level to go out there and dance.
I talked to Jerome Bettis, and he said, “If you’ve got to wear the most tight, snug outfit when you go out there, make it the tightest, snuggest outfit you can possibly wear and then worry about all the other stuff afterwards.”
I want to challenge you all to get better. Even though I played football for 14 years, I never thought I knew everything. I have always challenged myself to learn more. I pushed myself to get better. When you start to become a veteran in your workplace (when you have been there the longest), you can sometimes get your belly full; you become content with where you’re at. But I challenge all of you to do something else, push yourself to the next level. Because tomorrow is never promised and you have got to live each day like it's your last.
Question and Answer
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How about a competition with Donald Driver?
MR. WARD: I call Donald Driver all the time. He doesn’t want to compete with me. Get him on Twitter and say Hines wants to challenge you in dancing. We can do it right out here in this lawn. (Applause.) Donald called me and he said, “What do you think about Dancing with the Stars? Will it mess up your workout regimen and stuff like that?” And I told him, “Just do it. It changed my life.” I'm probably more known for Dancing with the Stars than my NFL career. It changed my life forever. And I love Donald. He's a great guy.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: At some point when you were playing football, did you think you were going to make it to the NFL?
MR. WARD: No. It was always a dream of mine, but, there are so many great athletes in the NFL. You start to question yourself if you can play. Take Tim Tebow. Here's a guy who did everything in college, won the Heisman. He's a great football player. And now the people say he can't play at the next level. Well, sadly, that was my last game. He beat us in Denver. I got “Tim-Tebowed.” So, to me, he still can play. He’s just not the prototypical type of guy. I have always been a big Tim Tebow fan. He's a great football player. I think in a way, the NFL and the business of it kind of takes that away. It's a shame, because he is a great football player.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm from Pittsburgh, and I just want to say we loved you playing and it broke my heart when you retired.
MR. WARD: I appreciate that. Things didn't go as planned in Pittsburgh. I still think I could have played at least a year or two more, but you have to understand the business side of it. And for me it's a lot easier to leave the game when you’ve reached the mountaintop. I have gotten everything I wanted out of the NFL. I have earned money, I have received accolades. I felt like I didn't have anything to prove.
Going to another team and not having that passion I had putting on the black and gold would be a waste of my time. So for me it was a chance to close that chapter of my life and open up a new chapter. Now that football is over and I watch the highlights – it’s something to look back on it – it's been one hell of a ride. I have gotten everything I wanted out of the NFL, and it's something that hopefully one day my kids can be proud of.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Being a Packers fan, have you ever considered during your career to go to Green Bay?
MR. WARD: No. I bleed black and gold, not green and gold. But Green Bay is great. I had an opportunity to cover some of the games. I have always said there are three main teams – Dallas, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh – that define champions and what it takes. They've done it for a long time.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Who would you rate the best pass defender you've played against?
MR. WARD: They all were good. It's kind of like chess, you make a move, they make a move, you make a move, but ultimately at the end of the day you want to win the game. But Champ Bailey, Revis, all those guys are just great. It's hard for me to label them because they are all different players. Having my name mentioned with Swan and Stallworth, two guys that are in the Hall of Fame, is all I could ever ask for. And so for me I'm very honored in that sense to still have my name mentioned amongst those guys. So it's hard for me to compare who is the best cornerback in the league.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How about one Chicago story? Tell us what you think of when you think of the Bears.
MR. WARD: With Urlacher you have got to find a way to keep that guy on the team. I think about what he epitomizes and what he represents. I love everything about Urlacher. I love Chicago, but it’s very windy. We played a game up there and it's hard to catch a ball when the ball is moving around. I caught 1,000 balls. I was one of the eight guys in NFL history to do that. And that's something I'm very proud of considering that I didn't play in a dome. Playing on Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, I had to deal with rain, sleet, snow. We never knew what we were going to get on Sundays. Many of the top ten receivers in catches didn't have to deal with the outside elements. I'm proud to be a part of that top ten group of guys considering I played in Pittsburgh the whole time.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How difficult was your transition from being a player to working for the network?
MR. WARD: Working for NBC is great because they are easing me into it. I can talk football all day, but when you are on television, you've only got 10 or 15 seconds to say something, so you have to be very concise. And while you’re talking, you’ve got somebody in your ear counting down how long you have left. I'm sitting alongside Bob Costas. Bob makes me feel kind of stupid, because he's so intellectual. He knows so much. But Bob never played football. And that's what I have to keep telling myself. I can't try to be like Bob. I have got to give insights through my eyes. Playing for 14 years, I do know a little bit about the game of football. So I try to be concise and say what the viewers want to hear – a player’s insights. I don't want to state the obvious. I want to give them something that we may not see or may not know. I'm very excited about the opportunity. I'm practicing. NBC is working with me. I am very blessed to be a part of NBC, because not too many guys go from retirement to landing a gig with NBC, one of the top television companies out there.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How many ironman competitions have you done, and did you have to qualify for Kona?
MR. WARD: No, with Kona I won't take someone's spot. They only have “X” amount of numbers that people have to qualify and then they have like ten exemptions. So it's more me bringing recognition to the sport. But I have done two. I've done a sprint race in San Diego and I just did an Olympic race in St. Pete, down in Tampa. And I must say, this is the hardest thing that I have ever done. Football training and being an endurance athlete is night and day. Football is all about speed, quickness, and power, but not necessarily endurance. I never ran over a mile and now I'm up to 13 miles.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: When you reach the level of celebrity that you have, you become a role model, whether you like it or not. It must be a mixed blessing.
MR. WARD: You don't get a manual or a handbook for how to be a role model. I didn’t set out to become a role model. I try to live my life as best that I know how. And there have been some stupid choices, but we all make silly choices, and that's how you live and you learn. It's what you learn from the mistakes that add to the character of who you are as a person. I won't make the same mistakes that I have made, and I think that's all about life.
I grew up in a single-family home with my mother who worked three jobs. I hear all the excuses from kids, such as they are a product of their environment. Well, I grew up in the worst environment there could possibly be, with a single mom who worked three jobs. So I didn't have curfews or any restrictions. A lot of my knucklehead stuff was being out and being at the wrong place and understanding that I don't need to be there. Because I always wanted to go to college and play football, so I had to disassociate myself with a lot of my friends. And when I was playing football, there were kids who looked up to me, and I had to be conscientious.
You see all the things going on with the football players and the negative stuff. We all have made bad choices. And a problem that we have is when a 22-year-old guy is given millions of dollars and he doesn't have a father figure in his life. He's trying to figure it out on his own. He's still trying to be cool and take care of the family. Sometimes you find yourself in predicaments and you wish you wouldn't have made those choices. Hopefully you learn from them so it doesn't ever happen again. But sometimes guys just get caught up in the moment.
I was one of those guys that got drafted third round. The first thing that I bought was a car. I had a two-seater, SL 500. Put two TVs in the back of the head top so the people behind me could see what I was watching on my front screen. It was the stupidest thing I ever did, the stupidest. But I didn't know any better. I came home and my mom said, “Why have you got TVs in your headrest and you don't have a back seat?”
Don't judge me, it happens. Now I'm 37 and I try to do the right thing. I'm more understanding of my environment. I can't be out in the clubs and doing all these different things. I'm with NBC; I represent my name, my mom. It's the brand. And I want my brand to be different. And so – I made some bad choices, but I think we all have made some mistakes in life. If you haven't, I need to be on your team.
In closing, I want to thank you for listening and letting me share my time with you today. And I wish you nothing but the best in everything that you do.