Q&A with Goals for Life Director Reggie Berry

Art Levine: Our guest is Reggie Berry, director of Goals for Life. He was a Long Beach State football player, and played with the NFL for the San Diego Chargers. Then he founded an incredible program called Goals for Life. Give us a sense of what it’s like to play professional football and then your transition to Goals for Life.

Reggie Berry: The first thing I noticed was how great the athletes are in the NFL. If I can give you an example, one time I saw George Hoey run down Floyd Little, who played for Denver. They said, “Man, did you see Hoey run down Floyd Little?” Another guy looks at me and says, “Hoey ran the 100-yard in 9.3 seconds.” I said, “I practiced with him every day, but I didn’t know he was that quick.”

Art: You had a good career in football, but then you transitioned into this program where former NFL athletes interface with some of our youngsters who are having some problems. You change lives through Goals for Life. Tell us how it works.

Reggie: We, former NFL players, go into schools and juvenile facilities, and we set goals and we compare academics with sports. We tell them that the same thing it takes to be good in sports is what it takes to do well in school or do well in life. If you have certain qualities and if you try to acquire those qualities, how can you lose? You can only be successful. At least you’ll be in the game. My dear friend, the late Larry Agajanian, who played ball for UCLA, captain of the team, and then went on to play with Green Bay, he always felt that there were a lot of lessons in sports that were applicable in life.

Art: In the program you have mentored thousands and thousands of young men and women. Tell us how it works.

Reggie: We sit down, we set goals. We talk about winning and losing. We have a winner’s vocabulary, we teach them, and a loser’s vocabulary. We say if you really want to win, you’ll do certain things. But if you don’t want to do those things, don’t expect a positive outcome.

Art: Some of you guys came from difficult backgrounds and turned your lives around. Almost everyone looks up to athletes. You have a lot of credibility walking into a room with a bunch of kids.

Reggie: Sure. We tell them that reaching your goal is not just a thing; it’s overcoming the obstacles that it takes to reach your goal. I had different players like Ron Brown who played in the NFL for eight years. He speaks to the kids all the time. They would never know that he had to overcome obstacles, that he just wasn’t the 9 flat 100-meter guy. He always said, “I made myself fast.” It takes a lot of work to be good at something, anything that you want to do. If you put in the time, you put in the work, you may not be the best, but you’ll be up there with the rest of them.

Art: We’ve had the pleasure of having several Olympian athletes as guests on the show. Regardless of the sport, it always impressed me, the sacrifices that these athletes have to make to reach Olympic level. Just to be in the Olympics is such a great accomplishment, but you give up a lot. You have to be willing to make that sacrifice.

Reggie: It’s what you are willing to give up to get what you want. Most people aren’t ready to sacrifice. But if you’re ready to sacrifice - time is the main thing you have to give up. If you’re willing to sacrifice time to be good at something, you can be good at it. You may not be the best, but you can be good at it.

Art: You’ve gotten dozens and dozens of other former NFL players to join you in Goals for Life; tell us how that came about.

Reggie: I think a good teacher’s a good coach and a good coach is a good teacher. I think most players are trained to be coaches. A lot of them get through playing football, they want to work with kids. What I’m trying to do is create a vehicle where they can do it. For instance, I just got Chris Ward on board. He’s brilliant working with kids. At one time or another, there’s been probably 100 former players that have spoken to the kids. We also get people from the community, like Dave Erickson who does a wonderful job speaking to kids. Steve, who is my president right now, has a contracting business. He hires them. He has a kid that he took from me and now flies drones and has his own program within his program.

Art: You are changing the lives of individual kids. There seems to be a consensus: it has to be one at a time; you have to have someone who the kid believes in. It doesn’t have to be a parent. But someone who the kid believes in, and looks up to, and can change a life one person at a time.

Reggie: We want to pat them on the back and tell them that they can because most of them, their favorite words are “I can’t.”

Art: I was at your Goals for Life dinner just this past fall down at Gladstone’s. It was a wonderful evening. You do that each year, and the community responds to what you’re doing.

Reggie: It really does. We have some wonderful people in the community working in the program and on my board. I’m just pleased right now how Goals for Life is going.

Art: You were honored recently by F&M Bank. You received the integrity award. The first paragraph of the printed program reads, “Reggie Berry. You can learn a lot about success from the game of football. The game teaches valuable lessons on teamwork, courage, and the ability to triumph over adversity. For more than 25 years, former San Diego Charger Reggie Berry has been instilling these values in thousands of young people.” What was it like receiving this award?

Reggie: Integrity is part of the winner’s vocabulary in Goals for Life. The first one is respect. We say respect, treating people the way you want to be treated, is treating people the way they want to be treated. Then it’s integrity. We say integrity is to keep your word. I tell the kids if a grown up says you have integrity, he’s giving you a great compliment. That means at your age that you will keep your word - that’s the way to be successful. When I got the integrity award, it made me feel really honored because I received something that was part of our winner’s vocabulary. I think that’s probably the best award of the things that I’ve had before, to say that I have integrity. I really appreciate that.

Art: I taught law and ethics at CSULB for many years. Values to me are so important, and they’re an underlying basis of this show. Nothing is more important ultimately to the survival and success of a company, of a civilization, of a country, and certainly of a person than values and things like integrity. The kids hear and change because of these lessons they’re learning from folks like you.

Reggie: Because I believe what comes out of your mouth is what you are. What you repeat over and over again is what you are. I had a kid in my class who was a gang member and when somebody else would interrupt, he’d look at them and tell them to be quiet. As soon as he looked at them, they would freeze-up. He wanted to hear what I had to say. He was really interested, and I was interested that he was interested. Over the summer he told me he needed some weights, so I called him up and I said, “I got some weights for you.” That kid ended up being captain of the football team at Norwalk High School. His team started winning because he developed that winner’s vocabulary. He knew what we were talking about. You get somebody positive to pat them on the back, somebody that they respect, it can change their whole life. I also tell the kids all the time it’s the people that you meet along the way. I think in my life I met some really great people that influenced the way I think about things. I’ve had good teachers. At Long Beach State I had teachers that I really admired. My high school football coach had a big influence on my life. He used to pull me out of class and talk to me all the time.

Art: A guest on the show compared life to a marathon because you have to be in it for the long run, not the short. But as you go through this long run, people along the way help you out. She said, “Then you need to help other people out.” I thought that was a wonderful metaphor.

Reggie: Not only taking, you have to give. If God gives you a gift, you’ve got to give it away. That’s what I always thought about when I was in high school and I used to walk on the middle school campus, I noticed that the little kids would spot me because I was a good athlete. I could say things to them and they’d listen to what I was saying.

Art: You are on the National Board of Directors of the Former NFL Players Association. You’ve been elected four times to three-year terms - unprecedented. Tell us about it.

Reggie: I’ve been working with them for a long time. The last 12 years or so they’ve elected me to be on the board to represent their interest though it’s only supposed to be a maximum of three. So they made a law you can only run three times now.

Art: What do you want to say to the young people tonight?

Reggie: It’s who you meet along the way; who will quit; how easy do you quit; what makes you quit? What do you want to do with your life? If you really want something bad enough, you’ll never quit. I’ve been doing Goals for Life for 28 years and I’ve had some really hard times. But every time I have a hard time I listen to my high school football coach telling me don’t quit. So I can’t quit. I’ve wanted to, but I just can’t quit.

Art: Those people at your annual fundraiser and the people you’ve attracted to your organization, they were there for you. There was a real bond between you and the audience. They were believers. They were your friends. Supporters.

Reggie: A lot of people want to work with kids, but I’m trying to create a vehicle where they can do it and they can be successful at it. That’s Goals for Life. We’re all role models. I think that kids choose their role models, adults don’t choose their role models. To an 8-year-old kid, his 9-year-old cousin’s his role model. An 11-year-old kid, his 16-year-old brother is his role model. They choose their role models. All we’re supposed to do is walk in the way that other people want to follow. So I’d like to thank some of the people that really helped me along the way. It seems like if you’re trying to do the right thing, somebody’s going to help you.

Art: If you’re really determined, if your goal is clean and pure, people or things come in from the universe to help you accomplish it. Congratulations. Thank you on behalf of the community for all that you do.

Reggie: Thank you, I appreciate it.

The Straight Talk show airs in Long Beach/Signal Hill on Saturdays and Sundays at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on LBTV Channel 3 and Frontier FiOS 21. It also airs Saturdays and Sundays in Long Beach and 70 surrounding cities at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Charter Channel 188. Straight Talk is also viewable on demand at www.StraightTalkTV.com.

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