COVER STORY: HINES WARD
By Teryl Warren
Football fans know Hines Ward as the ever-smiling Super Bowl champion wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Television fans know him as the newly crowned champion of ABC’s hit reality series Dancing With the Stars. But the people who know him best know him as a hard worker, a devoted son and father, and a man who invests himself 100% in everything he does. Fresh off the heels of his reality show win, Hines Ward granted Wiles an exclusive interview. Here’s what we learned from him.
When it comes to professional sports, few athletes have set the bar higher than Hines Ward. He’s been to 4 Pro Bowls, played in 3 Super Bowls, has been Super Bowl MVP, and broken multiple records while playing for one of the NFL’s most celebrated franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In addition to his gridiron glory, Hines Ward is a college graduate, an entrepreneur, a loyal friend, a loving father and a philanthropist. And, oh yeah, he can dance, too.
Since most people struggle juggling their personal lives with a 40-hour work week, a schedule like Hines Ward’s is enough to make you want to lie down and take a nap. I asked him how in the world he manages his hectic life so seamlessly.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “But my mom taught me early in life to have structure and be organized. Because of her I learned to balance a lot of things at once.” Focus, determination, and inexhaustible energy, it appears, are all a part of Ward’s DNA. So while most of his NFL colleagues take time off to rest between football seasons, what does Hines Ward do? Of course, he goes on a reality show.
“I love challenges,” he said. “I agreed to do Dancing With The Stars because I wanted to prove to myself that I could overcome my fears and succeed at something I had never done before if I just put my mind to it and worked hard.”
Early in the competition, Hines emerged as a clear fan favorite; and as the weeks went on, it looked as though a finale battle between Ward and the surprisingly smooth Karate Kid alum Ralph Macchio was eminent.
“When I said “yes,” [to being on the show] I wasn’t really thinking I could win it. My goal was to just not be the first one kicked off. But after going from the ‘dirtiest player in football’ to being compared to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, that was a big honor to me and it just motivated me to keep working hard.”
But when his partner and coach Kym Johnson took a nasty fall, the competition took a terrible and frightening turn. “To see my partner and my coach give it her all for me to win the competition and almost break her neck. That was devastating for me.”
Just 3 days after being injured, Johnson bounced back and performed with Ward. The emotions that he’d held inside came pouring out, and the world caught a glimpse of Hines Ward’s solemn, compassionate side. “People think athletes are insensitive and have big egos. But that’s not the case. We bleed the same red blood as everyone else and we care about others.”
Committed. Charismatic. Compassionate. Without a doubt, Hines Ward is all of these, and much more. Yet, it’s impossible to fully understand the man that he is today, without taking a journey back to where it all began. Back to the mother who protected him from racial hostility in his native Korea. Back to the mother who, despite being unable to speak the language, brought him to America so that he could have a better life. Back to the single mother who raised him in Atlanta and worked 3 jobs to support him – instilling in him the very values of perseverance, education and humility that guide him to this day.
Despite being ostracized as a biracial child in Korea, Hines had a yearning to explore his Korean heritage. In 2006, he and his mother, Kim Young He, visited the country for the first time since he was a toddler.
“When I got there I really didn’t expect the people to embrace me like they did. It blew my mind. They offered me an honorary citizenship and kids everywhere were wearing my jersey. I was overwhelmed and touched by the outpouring of love for my mom and me. It changed my entire perspective and made me want to get to know that side of my heritage better.”
Inspired by the biracial children he met in Korea, he immediately set plans in motion to start his Helping Hands Foundation, whose mission is to help biracial and underprivileged children all over the world by providing them with the resources, tools, and overall hope for the chance and equal opportunity at a successful life. “This foundation is my passion,” he said. “I think every kid should be given an equal chance at life and shouldn’t be at a disadvantage just because of the color of their skin. If I can help change the face of a country with my celebrity then I want to do even more while I can to get rid of discrimination all over the world. “
Hines Ward has just a few weeks to enjoy some down time before reporting to the Steelers training camp. Perhaps he’ll spend time with his family, and sneak in a few backyard barbecues with friends to unwind? He has, after all, earned some sort of a vacation. When I asked him what his plans are for life after football, Hines responded, without hesitation, “I still have plenty more football left in me.” And, after a little more contemplation, he mused, “Maybe broadcasting… possibly even [opportunities] in Hollywood…I’m not sure yet. As for personally, I really want to spend a lot of time with my mom and my son. I want to be a good father and be there for him as he grows.”
Whatever Hines Ward decides to do going forward, his football and television fans will surely be tuning in to watch. They are, it seems, as loyal to him as he is to them. And for a man whose talent, energy and enthusiasm are unbelievably limitless, the possibilities for his future are, without question, endless, as well.