DT Anthony McFarland doesn't want to make decisions for young men and women, he wants to help them make their own informed choices
McFarland, Youth Form SWAT Team
Buccaneers DT Anthony McFarland found the perfect audience for his message on informed decision-making at an event assembled by Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT)
On the right, an inflatable jousting area with foam jousting sticks sat next to a bungee cord race track. On the left, next to an enclosed inflatable play area, was a giant velcro wall waiting for kids in velcro suits to test how high up they could stick.
In the middle of this organized chaos at Anderson-Snow Park in Hernando County on Wednesday stood Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Anthony "Booger" McFarland. The combined allure of the waiting activities was great, but the games were temporarily deserted as all 120 kids in the park, ages 8-18, crowded around the Buccaneer star.
Although it would have been great fun to see McFarland try to squeeze into one of the velcro suits, he was at the park for a different reason, to support the organizers of Wednesday's event, Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT).
SWAT is a grassroots advocacy organization created by Florida's youth. Sixty-seven chapters (one for each county in Florida) battle against tobacco use with the support 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 statewide membership of over 52,000 students, with almost 40% minority representation.
"The basis of the event today is that the tobacco companies have underestimated the youth of Florida," said Bob Troesch, a Tobacco Prevention Coordinator. "They're still targeting our youth, they still are aiming everything they do at our youth and our youth are tired of it and they want to take a stand. They're here to say, 'Quit underestimating us. We're here to let you know we're going to keep fighting and we're going to fight you until we win.'"
McFarland spoke for about 20 minutes, with the audience listening intently. His main message was one of accountability; he urged the students to remember that, even if friends are encouraging them to do something harmful, they are ultimately the ones responsible for their own decisions.
"You are the only one that is accountable for yourself," said McFarland. "You are the only one that has to live with your decision."
This is a message that McFarland delivers often, especially when he's working with his own educational program.
McFarland's program - "Booger's Bucs Can Wait" – works with Hillsborough County Middle Schools to educate kids about making informed decisions on such issues as smoking, drinking, using drugs and relationships. Each year, McFarland adopts two middle schools to which he presents a video, passes out informational material and answers questions about how to make educated decisions. As a bonus to participating 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.
Another message McFarland routinely passes along to teens is the imporance of getting the facts. McFarland doesn't believe it's his right to tell people what they can or cannot do, but he believes that everyone should have the facts about an issue before they make a decision.
"If you have the facts, you can make an educated decision," said McFarland. "I'm not here to preach or scold you, I'm here to tell you to learn everything you can before you make the decision to use tobacco. I've seen lives that have been destroyed through the use of all kinds of tobacco. Whether it's cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, at some point it will have a negative impact upon your life."
McFarland's approach fits in perfectly with SWAT's mission, and his speech on Wednesday seemed to have a powerful impact on the assembled students.
"It's a great message," said Troesch. "This is one of the members of the Bucs that the kids look up to and they need to hear this from them. The reason the program has been so successful is that it's youth working with youth and the kids view Anthony as part of the youth movement. They need to hear the message from someone they respect, somebody that has done it and it's just a tremendously important thing to have him here today."
As fine of a role model as McFarland proved to be, he left the students with one final, surprising message.
"Don't be like me," he said. "Be better. Do things I can't do. Have a dream and a goal, work as hard as you can to acheive those things you most want to acheive and don't let anything stand in your way or slow you down."
For more information about SWAT, please visit www.gen-swat.com.