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Call to Action

The Falcons' running back, who has lived through his own triumphs and tragedy in Louisiana, asks NFL players to help rebuild a region that has touched them all

To my fellow NFL players: Last week the football community was devastated by a hurricane that tore apart an area where so many of us have grown up, competed, made a good living and won championship rings. A lot of guys in the NFL were born near the coast in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida. This could have happened to any of them. Brett Favre is from Kiln, Miss., and his family lost its house. Marshall Faulk is from New Orleans, and as of Monday he was still waiting to hear from four of his brothers.

But you don't have to have family on the Gulf Coast to feel the connection. Maybe you played in the SEC, in the Sugar Bowl or against the Saints at the Superdome. Maybe you partied at Mardi Gras or at one of the Super Bowls the city has hosted. How many of you got scouted at the Senior Bowl in Mobile?

My point is this: Football is embedded in the culture that Hurricane Katrina disrupted, and if you play the game, this is in some way your community and your tragedy. As professional athletes, and as Americans, we know we have a responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. That's why I am challenging each one of you--except for the players on the New Orleans Saints--to donate $5,000 to relief efforts.

Full disclosure: I'm one of those people for whom Katrina hit especially close to home. I was born in New Orleans in 1975 and raised in Baton Rouge. So many of my memories--some beautiful, some sad--are from Louisiana. I played youth football for the South Baton Rouge Rams and went on to play for Catholic High School. In my sophomore year we played the state championship game at the Superdome--a place that has lately become the site of so much misery. When I was 18, my mother, Betty Smothers, a single mom supporting me and my five brothers and sisters as a Baton Rouge police officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty while working overtime. The community banded together and established a trust fund for me and my siblings. Without the kindness of the people of my hometown, I probably wouldn't be playing in the NFL today.

If you've been to the area where so many people are suffering right now, and so many have died, you know that even as a visiting player, you are treated with Southern hospitality. People are polite in those parts. It's "yes, sir" or "no, ma'am." People care. Now we have to return that hospitality.

When I was home last week in Atlanta watching the story unfold on TV, I kept thinking, What can I do? Can I rent a plane and bring supplies? Can I get a truck down there with food and water? I just couldn't sit there and do nothing. Many of the people I saw had little to begin with, and now they've lost even that. Where are they going to live? Where are they going to work? I decided the best thing I can do is to mobilize the players of this league. This crisis needs money, and lots of it.

You and I--the players of the NFL--can afford this kind of contribution. The average guy in our league makes $1.33 million a year; he can certainly give less than 1% of that to help people who have lost everything but the shirts on their backs. If we all give $5,000, we'll have raised $8.5 million. That is a neighborhood of rebuilt homes. That is a new school. That is real. That is help. That is changing lives. And that is why I am working with the NFL Players Association to get every one of you to contribute. This open letter isn't the last time you'll be hearing from me.

But I get the feeling I'm not going to have to beg you. I've already spoken to some of you, and I sense a strong desire to help. Tom Brady, for one, says he's all for it. I've spoken to players on several teams--Travis Minor in Miami, Aaron Stecker with the Saints, and Allen Rossum, Michael Vick, Patrick Kerney and Todd Peterson on our team--and they're all receptive to it. But this is only a start. It is my hope that 31 teams will take the same initiative. Troy Vincent, the president of the Players Association, wants us to mobilize and get the job done.

Even though our minds are understandably on the season that begins this week, we cannot put this matter aside and we must move fast. Towns in three states have been leveled. A city that has given our league and our sport some of its best moments is in ruins. An entire region is in pain, a region filled with people who have paid to see us play, who have bought our jerseys, who now have nothing. What will it say about us--not as football players but as human beings--if we don't give back?

Dunn, who has played in the NFL since 1997, oversees the Warrick Dunn Foundation, which offers financial assistance to single mothers. He is the NFL's 2004 Walter Payton Man of the Year.

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The tears you see [are because] I have really enjoyed this ride. --JERRY RICE, TAKING A PASS, PAGE 22

"As NFL players we can afford to make this kind of contribution."