CANTON For this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Story Time at the Library ambassador, the job of reading to a roomful of children Aug. 4 was somewhat old hat. Since retiring from the NFL, Hall of Famer and former wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins Andre Reed has spent much of his time as an ambassador for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
And then, of course, there is Andre Reed’s name itself.
"We never even thought of that," laughed Julie Burley, Stark County District Library Youth Services manager of the irony. "We have families and a number of local daycare camps here, and we like to think it brings people into the library who don’t normally come in, whether youth or not. But I personally like the idea of these big football players reading something like Dr. Seuss to kids."
Now in its eighth year, the library has partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to bring free activities like Story Time to families through the Hall’s Ambassadors program.
"This also makes the library part of the Hall of Fame induction festivities," Burley added.
Reflections of his youth
Before his reading of Dr. Seuss’s realistically encouraging classic, "Oh The Places You Will Go," Reed recounted his own childhood, growing up in working class Allentown, Pa., and being a member of the local Boys and Girls Club himself.
"Let’s have a big round of applause for the moms and dads hear, because they know the importance of reading," Reed said at the outset of his appearance. "For me to be here, doing this means a lot. My mom and dad didn’t have a lot of time to read to me, so my reading was done at the library or at school. So this, to me, is really cool."
In the larger picture, Reed said, his story is one of never giving up – a lesson not lost on Reed. During his 16 years in the NFL, Reed gained more than 1,000 yards a season four times and he ranks tenth in career receptions with 951. Yet, while the Buffalo Bills teams he played for between 1985 and 1999 went to the Super Bowl four times in a row, they never came home with a victory.
"Every Hall of Famer always strived to be the best, whether they failed or not," Reed said. "We went (to the Super Bowl) four times, but unfortunately didn’t win. But we were winners because of the way it happened."
Since his NFL retirement in 2000, Reed has provided football commentary on ESPN2, NFL Fox and Spike TV. The work he is most proud of, however, revolves around kids.
Along with his work with Boys and Girls Clubs, he established the Andre Reed Foundation in 2010 to help underprivileged children reach their full potential and become responsible contributors to their communities. The foundation recently began a literacy program as well, Reed said.
"I see myself a lot in these kids," he said, which was immediately evident in his easy, natural rapport with them during the reading and autograph signing portions of the program. His answers to questions such as his reaction to the Bills four Super Bowl losses between 1991 and 1994 ("losing is part of winning; if you win everything all the time, losing once can be devastating"), meanwhile, gave the audience much to ponder beyond statistics and Hall of Fame membership.
But the most inspiring answers came from the simplest questions.
"What were my thoughts when I was drafted?" the alumnus of tiny Kutztown University said. "Do you know what it’s like to run down the steps on Christmas Day? Yeah, that’s what it felt like. And all the presents were for me. I just had to figure out how to open them."