On Monday, Derrick Brooks (left) was put at the head of a council on physical fitness in Florida by Gov. Charlie Crist
One of the most decorated defensive players in NFL history, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks has made a habit of raising his game when it matters most. Perhaps then it's no surprise that the veteran defender is once again meeting a challenge of the utmost importance head on; this time it's one posed by Florida Governor Charlie Crist.
Brooks, a recognized leader both on the football field and in the Florida community, formally accepted the governor's invitation to chair his new council on physical fitness on Monday, joining Crist at the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay to help kick off the initiative.
"It's easy to say the message, but to walk around and be the message is a much more powerful example of what the mission is," Brooks said.
Referring to him as "one of the greatest people I've ever met in my life," Gov. Crist lauded Brooks' participation in the council and said he believes the initiatives developed by the group will encourage people to choose lifelong exercise and eating habits that combat obesity.
"What we're doing today is kicking off the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, and this wonderful man next to me has agreed to be the chairman of the Governor's Council, and I appreciate that very much, Derrick," said Gov. Crist referencing Brooks' new role.
"We love Derrick and what he does not only for our sports team but for the people of our state and beyond. He truly is a man of great character and a great leader."
As council chairman, Brooks will headline a noted group of athletes composed of Rocco Baldelli, outfielder for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Jennifer Capriati, former Olympian and women's professional tennis standout; Nancy Hogshead-Makar, three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer; Ken Griffey Jr., outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds; Shannon Miller, one of the most decorated American gymnasts; Shaquille O'Neal, center for the Miami Heat and four-time world champion; and Corey Simon, defensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts.
That all-star cast of athletes will be joined by representatives from various constituencies, including the academic realm, the health care field, parks and recreation and the business sector. The council will also be comprised of members of the state and local governments as well as private citizens.
Together, these motivated citizens will develop a state plan of action to increase Floridians' levels of physical fitness through regular exercise and sound nutritional practices. The goal is to reduce the number of Floridians who suffer from chronic diseases resulting from obesity within the next 10 years.
"There are reports that indicate that about 60 percent of Floridians are obese, that about 25 percent of the students in our school system are obese," Gov. Crist noted.
With those facts in mind, ensuring that a physical education component exists for students in grade levels K-5 is one of the chief elements of Gov. Crist's proposal, and the council will examine the implementation required of such a plan.
"It seems to me that one of the most common sense things that we can do is to have phys ed back in schools, so we have proposed it in our budget – the governor's recommendation to the legislature," Gov. Crist said. "I think it's important that we get a good start. We want to do it every day in every grade, but our beginning is kindergarten through the fifth grade, and we've allocated the money to do so."
Finances aside, much of the effort, Gov. Crist said, involves simply taking advantage of what's already available to Floridians throughout the state.
"Look at this state," Gov. Crist remarked. "What state's prettier to enjoy the outdoors, to go kayaking, to jog, to swim, to enjoy our rivers, our beautiful Tampa Bay like I love to do? It's a special place to live in. And we can do it year-round. We don't have any blizzards. It's a good thing. This is the place - I think it's ground zero for doing what's right, for making sure that we have healthy lives, healthy citizens and most importantly healthy kids – and the Boys and Girls Clubs have done extraordinary work in that regard."
It's an effort in which Brooks truly believes, not just for the immediate physical benefits but for many of the intangibles associated with physical fitness, especially when that fitness comes from playing sports.
"It's much more than exercise; it's much more than combating obesity," Brooks explained. "It's teaching teamwork, it's teaching ethics, its teaching morals, it's teaching working together, team-building. All the things that these kids are going to have to learn as they get older to be a productive part of society I think can be handled through physical education. And it breaks down all barriers, all diverse levels. You are forced to play with someone who looks different than you, but yet you're excited because they're on your team. And I think the earlier we can get that message inside of kids, I think that's going to be better."
And once the plan becomes a reality, Brooks wants to ensure that the momentum begun in those early grade levels continues throughout a student's education.
"Let's take this beyond K-5, and let's get behind any [associated] legislation," Brooks said. "Talk to your state representatives who vote on legislation, and let's get this passed all the way through the 12th grade."
For more information on the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, visit Healthyfloridians.com, a new web site launched by the Office of the Governor this week.