For many, it is hard to imagine a younger Russell Wilson knocking the teeth out of smaller kids in the schoolyard, slamming heads against walls, generally being the stereotypical asshole jock.
“I was a bad kid,” the Seahawks quarterback said Friday at team headquarters, beginning a fascinating 10-minute disclosure about his childhood that he has never shared publicly. “I thought I owned the playground. I thought I owned the classroom. I thought I was bigger than who I was. I thought I would never get in trouble for anything. I thought that was the way to go. I thought that was being a man.”
Hard as that was to imagine, it is just as hard for many to imagine striking a spouse in the fashion of Ray Rice.
So Wilson would like to heighten awareness by, it would appear, getting help for the surprised, defenseless victims of domestic violence and bringing them from the margins to the middle of a long-overdue cultural discussion of beating loved ones, and strangers, because violence can be done as easily as it can be ignored.
Wilson opened a foundation Tuesday, planning to name it after himself until he recalled a bit of Scripture — “He must increase, but I must decrease” — and switched it to a bromide his father said to him repeatedly: “Why not you?”
During the bye week, he flew to California and was listening to “Man in the Mirror,” a a No. 1 hit in 1988 by one of his musical heroes, Michael Jackson (“If you wanna make the world a better place / take a look at yourself / and then make a change”).
“I was thinking about all the things with domestic violence,” he said. “I knew that the idea of ‘Pass the Peace’ would be a great idea.”
The Why Not You Foundation’s first cause became the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, the only national direct-services provider that serves domestic violence victims, survivors, their families and friends and abusers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The “Pass the Peace” slogan was put to video and upon the sweatshirt he wore to his weekly press conference. The idea was to create a viral meme akin to the “Ice Bucket Challenge” that raised millions of dollars for the fight against ALS. In the video, Wilson challenged retired Yankees star Derek Jeter and pop star Justin Timberlake to “Pass the Peace.” He plans to challenge others daily.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, I play quarterback, how ‘bout I pass the ball to somebody,’ then I thought about peace and what that means, and I came up with ‘Pass the Peace,” he said. “It’s been a great initiative so far.”
Jeter is the founding publisher of “Players’ Tribune,” a digital platform for first-person stories by athletes that he launched in New York this week, which featured an essay by Wilson talking about his adolescence as a bully that garnered national attention. Wilson was named a senior editor and said he will continue to write for the site.
Wilson knew his ambitious agenda would draw speculation about his focus on football, with the Seahawks on the Monday night game against the Redskins in Washington.
“My focus is on football — playing great football and trying to win games,” he said. “I do want to be an entrepreneur. I do want to be able to do different things. I’m not just about football. I think I have the power to influence and help others and encourage others, that’s part of it too.”
Wilson said an acceptance of Christianity at 14 was the turning point in his life: “I got saved and I kind of changed my life big-time. I used to always go to church to see the cute girls and now I go to church to work on my heart.”
Asked whether he apologized to those he bullied, he offered his only mis-speak of the day.
“I haven’t seen any of them. They’ve gone missing, for whatever reason — not that way, not that way,” he said, smiling. “But I honestly haven’t seen any of them lately.”
Wilson’s initiative is designed at the outset to help victims. But the focus of the NFL tumult has been the nature of punishment for NFL players by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Wilson steered clear of criticizing players or Goodell.
Asked what he would say to perpetrators, Wilson said, “In my faith, I believe in forgiveness. I believe that people can change. I believe that everybody is not perfect and people make wrong decisions all the time. But the great thing about the Why Not You Foundation and the Pass the Peace initiative is the promise that no matter how good I have been or how bad I have been or what I have done, boy, girl, man or women — the whole thought process for me is “The Man in the Mirror”: How can I change?
“How can I make a difference, one person at a time. If I just try to change all of domestic violence and say ‘stop’ all at once — that’s not going to happen, right? So if we focus on the one person at a time, we have a chance . . . Hopefully, that will continue to exponentially grow, become a snowball effect, and help other people down the road.”
Big words from a reformed bully. But as Seahawks fans have seen, he has a well-developed capacity for the rally.
Reach The Hotline by either going to WhyNotYouFoundation.com (where there is more information on the initiative and a link to The Hotline’s donation page) or by texting WNYPassThePeace to 41444. The text will immediately send back a link to make a donation. You can follow the Pass the Peace challenge on social media with #WNYPassThePeace, #NDVH, and @DangeRussWilson and @NDVH.
Art Thiel will be at Page 2 Books in Burien Saturday to read from and sign Sportspress Northwest’s new book, “Russell Wilson: Standing Tall.”