Yes, you’re seeing double. We present to you Hines Ward, times two. Meet the many sides of the ever-evolving athlete. | by Andrea Bosco | Photographs by Cayla Zahoran | Art direction by Jason Solak
Who knows Hines Ward better than Hines Ward? The answer is simple — no one, but he’s willing to let you in. A man of boundless talents, No. 86 has transformed from regal, record-owning wide receiver, to two-time Super Bowl victor and MVP, to “Dancing with the Stars” champion, to sharp-suited sports broadcaster, and now, Positive Athlete — those worthy titles just grazing the surface of his many layers. Beneath Ward’s multifaceted personas and between each illustrious smile, there have been struggles, successes, and driven expeditions. His recent work as the representative of Positive Athlete Pittsburgh, an organization shining light on children and young adults with skills and character beyond the field, is a perfect fit. He continues to tenaciously train for the 2013 Ironman World Championship — his go-to secret weapon for recovery, chocolate milk — as he enjoys work from the other side of the mic. An interview in its rawest form, Ward discloses his defeats, his devout passion for leading others, and his life philosophy. From gridiron great to studio host, Hines tells all.
Why is it an honor to represent Positive Athlete Pittsburgh?
It’s a big honor because I never had anyone do this for me, outside of my mom, when I was growing up. I think it’s important for kids these days to have positive reinforcement and encouragement. What better city to do this in than Pittsburgh — the city where I gave it my all and that has given me so much for 14 years.
What does a “positive athlete” mean to you?
A positive athlete to me is an athlete who displays a positive outlook in everything he or she does, both on and off the field. It is someone who never lets the negativity of life bring him or her down. Someone who never quits and always finds the good in others and in all experiences that life brings, no matter how difficult or challenging.
What’s the future of Positive Athlete? Do you see it being represented in every city in the U.S.?
I’d love to see the Positive Athlete program in every city in the U.S. and eventually abroad. As my football career came to an end, I realized how blessed I was to have lasted 14 years in the league. I see how so many kids today try so hard to be like us NFLers and dream about one day filling the roles that us veterans once held. I want to do my part to see that they do this with a positive outlook and attitude. Sports is a powerful thing. And as an athlete, you can choose to handle all the fame and glory that comes with it selfishly and immaturely, or you can make the choice to have a lasting impact by being a positive influence on others. I choose to be a positive influence and hope I can continue to do so with the Positive Athlete program.
Have you seen first-hand children’s results, fresh attitudes, and defeated struggles — does that make it all the more rewarding?
Most definitely. I mean, I lived all those struggles and battled all the naysayers for most of my life. Through my foundation and the work I do with kids, I see how hard it is for them too, and what a huge difference a smile or a word of encouragement is. Such a small thing can have a big impact on kids. Teaching our youth by example is very rewarding for me. When a kid comes up to me and says he or she turned his or her whole life around because of something I said or did, there is no better feeling or bigger motivation for me. That’s why I keep doing what I do…with a smile on my face.
How did your NFL career prepare you to be an on-air broadcaster?
I think all the interviews I’ve done over my career and all the media opportunities and community involvement helped me grow and mature as a person. For me, broadcasting is always something I envisioned doing after football. It was a natural fit, in my opinion. I always have something to say and am glad to have people around who are willing to listen.
What have been some of the challenges in taping “The Hines Ward Show” and traveling for “Sunday Night Football”?
Logistics. Switching gears and going from city to city. That’s probably been the most challenging part — the travel. But, I wouldn’t trade it for the world now. I definitely don’t miss the Monday morning rehab sessions after a grueling battle in the trenches on Sunday afternoons [he smiles].
Looking back on your childhood dreams, has everything you wanted come true?
I think so. I’m satisfied that I’ve accomplished everything in football that I had hoped and dreamed to do. Not everyone can say that. Four Pro Bowls, three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl championships, and a Super Bowl MVP. As a kid, I could only dream of these things. Having done them, I’m very thankful and very blessed.
Being a Super Bowl MVP, winning “Dancing with the Stars,” reporting on television, what have you learned about yourself? Has anything surprised you?
[He laughs]. I’ve had the most amazing life so far. It’s been surreal. I compare it to being like a real life Forrest Gump. I’ve had so many great opportunities and have been able to experience so many things. It’s been great. And very humbling. I conquered one of my fears in dancing and realize more and more that I can accomplish anything if I put my mind to it. My mom always told me to never give up on my dreams. To never quit no matter what. And I’ve lived by that philosophy. I like to know that my name stands for something: Will Always Rise above Difficulty. That’s what my life has always been about.
How are you preparing for the 2013 Ironman World Championship?
That’s probably going to be my toughest challenge yet. I’ve never been an endurance runner. With football, we trained just the opposite. But, I’m working out each day, preparing myself for this ultimate challenge. I’ve got a secret weapon to help me with my recovery process after each workout — I drink chocolate milk. Come time, I’ll be ready.
How have your experiences in Pittsburgh allowed you to be the best you can be in so many facets of life?
My experiences with the Pittsburgh Steelers have been the best times of my life. There is no better organization and no better owner to play for. Every year the expectations are high — nothing less than the Super Bowl. Playing with guys like Jerome and Troy has always motivated me to be the best I can be. Knowing the reputation and tradition that you have to live up to with the ‘70s Steeler greats makes you always want to give it your best. This city has the greatest fans in the game, and that’s why I couldn’t see myself playing for any other team. That’s why I retired in the black and gold. I am a Steeler for life, and I am honored that I got to serve Steeler Nation and our great fans for 14 great years.
SCOTT PEDERSON, FOUNDER, POSITIVE ATHLETE
Passionate to pioneer, Positive Athlete founder Scott Pederson sold his sports marketing firm in Atlanta two years ago to build Celebrate Positive, an organization dedicated to promoting and rewarding positive people, organizations, and communities.
“It isn’t about awarding top athletes,” Pederson says. “The program is about shining light on kids who inspire teammates and coaches in different ways that don’t show up in the statistics.” Ward, without a doubt, fit the bill as a model. Pederson says the veteran athlete was the perfect choice to lead the program in Pittsburgh because “his life is a series of situations where he has turned negatives into positives.”
“He had issues of being bullied as a child because he was bi-racial,” he says. “He wasn’t drafted high by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he didn’t go to his prom because he was afraid to dance in public.” Go figure!
The organization’s ultimate goal is to have a Positive Athlete program sponsored in every elementary, middle, and high school in Western Pennsylvania. Made manageable for companies, civic organizations, and PTAs, a school can adopt the program for as inexpensive as $500.
Pederson illustrates a Positive Athlete through seven defining attributes: optimistic attitude, encouraging teammate, servant leader, heart for others, admits imperfections, always gives 100 percent, and puts team first.
In 2011, he says the nominations from 75 local high schools came pouring in — and, totals for 2012 have doubled. And, for the second consecutive year, on April 21, the city will recognize “Positive Athlete Day,” proclaimed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
“When you look at the seven definitions of a Positive Athlete, they are the same character points businesses would love to have in each of their employees,” Pederson says. “Now is the time to prepare our kids for becoming those kinds of employees and citizens.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
Hines Ward enters his dressing room in WPXI-TV’s studios with little time to spare. He’s prepared for his Thursday afternoon routine — taping “The Hines Ward Show.” Having arrived fresh from flight in a black suit, and a patterned gray dress shirt and pocket square, Ward relieves his leather bag and tennis shoes as he greets co-host and Sports Director Alby Oxenreiter, guest and Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland, makeup artist Debi Maker, and the WHIRL Magazine team. A quiet chaos ensues, but the vibe remains calm and buoyantly cheerful. Today presents an exciting challenge — we have exactly 45 minutes to set up, tear down, and photograph Ward and his counterparts. The ON AIR light beams red as producer Dean Iampietro cues the cameras and we prepare on the other side of the secured door, just as we rehearsed. We’re steaming clothes, lacing shoes, constructing tripods, altering camera settings, and remembering to breathe. The light goes off — it’s show time.
Following some concentrated shots — and laughs, comes a wardrobe change. He humbly extends his arm my way for assistance with a Nike wristwatch, and I can sense a focused Ward. Soon after, our shoot is a wrap. Ward, a man worthy of honors beyond honors, overachieved our mission with grace and charm. And just like that, the Super Bowl champ left the dressing room in the same manner in which he arrived, this time as the interviewee in athletic gear, onto his next destination under the bright lights.
“Timing played a huge part in this photo shoot, with each shot timed down to the second. Props, including a ruler, tape, and multiple tripods were used for staging.” —Cayla Zahoran, Staff Photographer
“Consistent lighting and positioning were crucial components of the photo shoot and helped us eliminate a good deal of post-production work. Hines was a great sport and played right along with our concept.” —Jason Solak, Art Director (pictured above as a stand-in for Hines Ward)
DEAN IAMPIETRO, WPXI PRODUCER, “THE HINES WARD SHOW”
“Working with Hines each week is one of the most enjoyable things I do. He has taken his work ethic from the football field and applied it to the studio. He has not only a willingness, but a desire to get better each week, and to have a perfect show. I know for a fact he’s putting in the hours to make this show, and any broadcasting appearance he makes, the best it can possibly be. I really like what Hines has brought to the table with Positive Athlete. It’s a good feeling to be able to recognize high school athletes who go above and beyond.”
DEBI MAKER, MAKEUP ARTIST
“Even though we’re a local show and Hines is used to the national stage, he always brings his A-game — always on time, professional, but fun and high energy. I work with a lot of professional athletes, but Hines is a real pleasure. It’s an amazing experience to work with such an accomplished athlete and person.” Debi Maker — Hair & Makeup Artist, 412.818.4097. debimaker.com.
ALBY OXENREITER, WPXI SPORTS DIRECTOR + “THE HINES WARD SHOW” CO-HOST
“Hines is made for television and has the qualities that you can’t teach. He’s smart, works hard, and has an amazing charisma. So, it’s a lot of fun working beside him as he starts his career after football. I’ve known Hines for 15 years, but it’s nice to be with him on ‘this’ side of the camera.”
WHEN TO WATCH: “The Hines Ward Show,” Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. on WPXI-TV
DATES TO NOTE: April 21, 2013: “Positive Athlete Day” in Pittsburgh | October 12, 2013: IRONMAN World Championship, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
This article is featured in the January 2013 issue of WHIRL Magazine.
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