WWE Champs visit Miami-Dade Boys and Girls Club of America
Thaddeus Bullard could have been just another number, someone through the judicial system, in and out of jail or worse.
Fortunately, people emerged in his life who helped, and what you now see is a WWE Superstar, a college graduate, a good father, a philanthropist and a positive role model himself.
Thaddeus Bullard is WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil and vice-versa.
Not one to rest on his laurels, his most recent accomplishment is becoming an author.
His down and up journey -- his autobiography There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid: How I Went From Stereotype To Prototype written with Paul Guzzo -- has been published by ECW Press in partnership with WWE.
One of the strong messages of the book is how adults can effect change in young people’s lives -- by listening and providing real talk, guidance and positivity to the youth, especially troubled youth.
The factors in O’Neil’s early life, because of circumstances sans his control, depicted a kid searching for a father figure, a role model, someone to show him the way. He struggled with life, getting into fights (lots of fights), clowning in school (to off-set his hand-me-down, baggy clothes, glasses and lankiness) and clashing with authority figures (mom, teachers).
Raised in a poor neighborhood of Boynton Beach in South Florida, drugs were rampant. Boynton Beach is in Palm Beach County. The city is north of Delray Beach and south of West Palm Beach.
O’Neil witnessed first-hand a drive-by which took the life of his friend’s father. Somehow, through will and determination, he avoided drugs -- dealing or using. Good was in him. He just needed proper direction from the right people.
A victim of rape, his mom, Daria, at age 11, refused an abortion, opting to give him life. As a teenager and beyond, she worked hard to provide financially for her children (four), and it was a struggle. A strong-willed woman, physically disciplining her overly aggressive son did not work.
The turnaround stemmed from a social worker, football and law enforcement.
Positive people like Delray Rocks Pop Warner Football Coach Matthew Bump Mitchell, Palm Beach County Social Worker Barbara Wilfork, Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch Live Oak Campus Director Pat Monogue and Live Oaks Civil Rights Icon Charles Blalock made sound impacts on O’Neil’s life.
“I think the turnaround was a process and a team effort between the social worker and the local law enforcement agency,” he said.
“My mom, I don’t know how much she impacted them being able to get me into the [Florida Sheriffs Youth] Boys Ranch. They skipped me ahead of a lot of people. The list is one thousand names long, and so for the sheriff, at the time, to hurry up and sign me up and approve for me to go, that was huge.
“My Pop Warner Coach [Mitchell], he kept me out of trouble, because when I got suspended from school, I would have to go to the police department [where Mitchell worked) and write sentences all day and be treated essentially like a prisoner, but at least I was in the safe confines of the police.
“My mom, her biggest contribution was the decision that she made at an early age, at 11-years-old, to have me, despite the fact that she was raped. She didn’t have to...She was told that she should get an abortion. She was actually driven to Boynton Beach to get an abortion, but she refused to do it and then got kicked out [of the house] by my grandmother. Now you have this young woman, whose not even a teenager yet, pregnant, needing a place to stay. Fortunately she found a place to stay with a friend, had me, gave birth to me, and the rest is history.”
Near Tallahassee, the Live Oak Unit of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Inc. gave O’Neil counseling, purpose, structure, goals, and much needed positive reinforcement. He struggled at first, nearly got thrown out for fighting, but a heart-to-heart talk with Monogue hit home and really began the transformation.
O’Neil said: “It was a series of people and instances that kind of led me to where I am today.”
Bullard, 42, played four seasons of Arena League Football (including with the Tampa Bay Storm), before embarking on a WWE career. Debuting in 2009, he worked hard -- training, learning and wrestling with FCW in Tampa, his current home base. He earned a spot on the WWE main roster in 2012 with Darren Young (The Prime Time Players), and they won the WWE tag team titles. O’Neil also is the first WWE 24-7 champion, and his famously funny Titus World Slide went viral.
And he loves his Gators.
College Game Day this year kicks off in Orlando from the Citrus Bowl, two-time home of WWE WrestleMania (24 and 33), and it pits the University of Florida football team against the University of Miami in a rivalry battle. Televised nationally Aug. 24 on ESPN on prime-time, where will one-half of the Prime Time Players be on Aug. 24?
O’Neil answered: “I will be in Orlando on the sidelines representing the University of Florida and cheering for the University of Florida Gators.”
On the opposite sideline may very well be former University of Miami and retired NFL football player Vince Wilfork, another Boynton Beach product whose mom was the social worker who helped O’Neil immensely during his youth.
O’Neil is five years older than Wilfork, a second-team All American in high school, first team All Big East Conference in college and four-time All Pro nose guard in the NFL.
Wilfork chose The U over FSU, Alabama, Michigan, Kansas State and yep Florida.
How come O’Neil could not convince him to play college ball in Gainesville?
O’Neil responded: “I was in North Florida when he made that decision, so I couldn’t have much influence on his decision. At the time, The U was a very popular place to go, and it was a lot shorter drive than to Gainesville for him, being in Boynton Beach. I think he made the right decision for himself, and he ended up doing pretty well for himself, and I made the right decision for myself.
“Also know that we are two shining examples of pride, love and respect for Boynton Beach. A lot of people can’t speak about Boynton Beach without mentioning my name or his name, which is good. We only have a handful of people -- [NBA alum] Otis Thorpe, Vince and myself and a few others.”
BTW, O’Neil enjoys Twizzlers and remote controlled cars.
Here is my complete audio interview with WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil.
About Titus O’Neil’s autobiography
There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid: How I Went From Stereotype To Prototype -- by WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil with Paul Guzzo -- has been published by ECW Press in partnership with WWE.
The book is an inspirational, inside look at O’Neil’s journey from his turbulent childhood years to his current success as an accomplished WWE Superstar, philanthropist, college graduate, good father and role model.
As a child in South Florida, Thaddeus Michael Bullard (birth name) was repeatedly dismissed as a “bad kid,” and by the time he was a teenager, he had internalized those negative labels. He was born and raised in Boynton Beach in South Florida, before a life-changing alternative program brought him to Live Oak, near the state capital Tallahassee, where he later attended Suwannee High School, starring in football.
He owes his change of outlook on life to an adult that told him, “there is no such thing as a bad kid.” It was then that he began to believe in himself and in his ability to change his story. The 6-6, 270-pound Bullard became a high school All-American football player and a University of Florida starter, a student body vice president, a brother of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the first college graduate in his immediate family.
“Being in WWE provides me a global platform to impact lives in a positive way, but it doesn’t take a Superstar to make a difference,” he said in a release. “This is the story of how one conversation changed my life, how I transformed a personal tragedy into my own triumph, and how we can all challenge ourselves and others to do a little bit better.”
Bullard’s remarkable personal story will motivate and teach adults how to foster a positive environment and better guide disadvantaged children in a way that will lead to a healthier sense of self worth. The book is also an opportunity to reach a wider audience, with the aim of helping children see their own worth and potential.
More about Titus O’Neil
Thaddeus Bullard, 42, is best known as WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil.
A devout Christian living in Tampa, O’Neil parlayed his WWE success into helping others, being a philanthropist outside the ring with his own charitable contributions as well as working with the WWE Be a STAR anti-bullying program.
O’Neil has raised millions for charities, secured scholarships for student athletes and mentored at-risk youth. His influence has been recognized by Michelle Obama, who selected him as an official ambassador for her “When We All Vote” and “Reach Higher” campaigns. He was also named to the Ebony Power 100 list alongside Venus Williams, James Harden and Steph Curry.
A father of two sons (Thaddeus Jr. (TJ) and Titus), he won the 2015 MEGA Dad Award for “Celebrity Dad of the Year.”
In the ring, he is a former WWE tag team champion (with Darren Young as the Prime Time Players) and a former FCW tag team champ (with Damien Sandow). The leader of Titus World Wide, he became the inaugural WWE 24-7 champion, and his famously funny Titus World Slide went viral.
He is a very good WWE Superstar and an even better person and father.
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