Bucs DT Anthony McFarland speaks to students at the SWAT Summit.
Teens attending the annual Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Teen Tobacco Summit received a powerful anti-tobacco message from an equally powerful force on the Buccaneers defensive line. Buccaneers DT Anthony "Booger" McFarland was greeted with a deafening cheer by over 350 students who attended the summit this past Friday.
During June 19-22, SWAT members came together for their annual Teen Tobacco Summit in Clearwater, FL. The theme of this year's summit was "Category 5" – a spin on the hurricane intensity warning. The objective of the summit was to help teach life skills and develop new strategies toward the reduction of tobacco use among Florida's youth.
McFarland kicked off the celebrity portion of the day's event by addressing some of the media messages that current and former professional athletes are sending and the message that he tries to send to kids looking for a role model.
"Some former players have done some things with alcohol and tobacco and it's all good when you look at the business side of it. But, what we as athletes have to look at is the message as role models that we are sending to the kids," said McFarland. "The message that I try to send is that you can be successful and have a successful career and you don't have to get involved with tobacco or alcohol. I think it's important that kids know that and the athletes that they do see doing the commercials don't represent athletes as a whole. There are a lot of others out there who are doing things the right way."
SWAT is a grassroots advocacy organization created by Florida's youth. Sixty-seven chapters (one for each county in Florida) wage the battle against tobacco with the help of adult partnership members who help them plan and implement activities. SWAT membership is open to all middle and high school aged youth and has a membership of over 50,000 students statewide.
Joining McFarland for the celebrity portion were former Florida State and NFL players Kez McCorve and Clay Shiver, paralympian medallist Muffy Davis and Katy Curran, a former long distance runner and current coordinator of the Tobacco Free Sports Campaign for the Center for Disease Control.
The athletes spoke to the assembled students about several topics ranging from the simple question of favorite names and numbers – 'Booger' and 'three' for McFarland – to the important questions of how the athletes achieved the level of success they have and staying on the right path.
"As I got older and began to mature, one of my biggest faults became one of my greatest assets," said the 300-pound defensive tackle. "And that's me being stubborn. I'm a stubborn old mule. But being stubborn always allowed me not to be afraid when I do fail, to get back up and go try again. And that's one of the things that got me where I am today. You have to believe in yourself and your own ability in order to succeed."
A success both on and off the field, McFarland has also started his own program that helps to empower the youth of Tampa.
McFarland's program, called "Booger's Bucs Can Wait," works with Hillsborough County Middle Schools to educate kids about making informed decisions about issues, such as smoking, drinking, using drugs and relationships. Each year, McFarland adopts two middle schools in which he presents a video, passes out informational material and answers questions about how to handle the decision-making process and make educated decisions. As a bonus to the participate in the "Booger's Bucs Can Wait" program, kids who take the "I Can Wait" pledge are invited to attend a regular season Bucs home game.
By beginning this program during the 2000 season, McFarland became one of the leaders that he urged the students attending the summit to become.
"In the society that we live in there are always going to be leaders and followers. The key is to make sure that we have enough good leaders, that way the followers will be lead down the right path. I think everybody here is already a leader and I encourage you to keep that up. Be a leader in school, be a leader out of school. The more good leaders we have the better our society will be."
And while the youth at the SWAT Summit are youth leaders, the peer pressure at the middle and high school age can still be overwhelming for even the most determined and informed. And one of the most important questions asked was in regards to what to do if you feel pressure to smoke because it's the cool thing to do.
"I think the cool thing is to be yourself and be confident in who you are to make your own choices," said Davis, a promising young skier who was paralyzed in a skiing accident, but persevered to become a multiple medallist at the paralympics.
To learn more about SWAT and how you can join the fight against tobacco log on to www.gen-swat.com.