LB Derrick Brooks believes Florida children can learn healthier life habits while at school
With all due respect to his unparalleled football skills, Derrick Brooks' biggest play at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday didn't come on the practice fields.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did practice Thursday morning, but Brooks' big play came a few hours later inside the team auditorium. That's when Brooks took a break from his busy football schedule to welcome Florida Governor Charlie Crist and a host of special guests and public visitors who were on hand for the inaugural meeting of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness.
Gov. Crist established the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness in March 2007 with the goal of reducing the rate of obesity and chronic disease in Florida's children, adults, and senior citizens in 10 years.
"Having a governor's council on physical fitness is an idea that kind of came to us during the course of the campaign, and all of you in the room understand and appreciate the importance of physical education and activity – what a difference it can make in a life, how it can add to the productivity of young people in particular," said Gov. Crist.
Brooks' duties, however, were hardly limited to those of a welcoming party. As chair of the council – a role he accepted last March after being appointed by Gov. Crist – Brooks, in his typical fashion, used the afternoon to get down to business and begin forming a winning gameplan with the governor and his new team.
"I believe as a leader, I've really got to enforce to my teammates – and I see you guys as my teammates – our mission," Brooks said.
"We want to develop a state plan of action over the next few months, a starting plan for our state that will address physical activity and healthy nutrition promotion among our youth in schools and adults in our community."
Thursday's meeting, Brooks said, was largely aimed at ensuring that all council members understand the group's goals, along with the roles they will play in helping the council achieve those goals. It also represented an opportunity for many of the council members to meet each other for the first time and learn more about the issues they are working hard to conquer. The meeting was open to the public, as well.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, approximately 60 percent of overweight children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and approximately 25 percent have two or more risk factors. Additionally, the Florida Department of Health estimates that 60 percent of adults in Florida are overweight or obese, and 25 percent of high school students are overweight, or at risk of becoming overweight.
Those startling statistics underscore the importance of the work of the council, Gov. Crist said.
"The work that you all are doing, as the council, is incredibly important, and I look forward to the ideas that you come up with, the discussions that you have," he stated.
"The discussions that you will have while serving on this council are going to change lives. They really are. And I want you to realize – and I'm sure that you do but I'm here to reemphasize how important it is – how life-changing it can be. You will save lives by the ideas and suggestions that you come up with. You literally will."
Under Gov. Crist's leadership, the State of Florida is already well on its way to addressing fitness and nutrition issues among the state's youth.
As a result of 2007 legislation, Florida public school elementary students in grades K-5 must receive at least 30 minutes of physical education each day. But the council believes that's not enough. It would like to see that effort expanded to encompass all students at the middle and high school (6-12) grade levels by the year 2012. With that goal in mind, the council is exploring the feasibility of providing physical education courses and activities every day for those students, with a particular emphasis on graduation requirements, ADA compliance and additional impacts on the school day.
"I understand what physical fitness in our schools meant to me when I was coming up," Brooks said. "And we're trying to attack the obesity problem. It's about teaching our kids to be self-motivated and using physical fitness and sports outside the classroom to assist our teachers inside the classroom. Those were some of the things that were available to me that were taken advantage of by myself along with others when we were coming up, and that's something that I want to be able to pass back down not only to my kids but to kids of this generation."
As committed to the effort as Brooks is, he knows its scope is far too large to tackle alone, especially considering that he's got an upcoming NFL season to play. That's why he's getting an assist from fellow committee member Shannon Miller. Miller, a seven-time Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics, joined Brooks at One Buc Place Thursday where it was announced by Brooks that she will serve as co-chair of the committee.
In accepting the role, Miller reiterated the need for physical activity among Florida's youth, but also stressed the need for the inclusion of Floridians of all ages, advocating for education and opportunities for the not just the young but the young-at-heart as well.
Miller also shared a personal story about how sports and fitness have had a profound effect on her life.
"I was raised in a family where my mother was extremely active before things like Title IX and things like that, where there weren't that many opportunities for women," said Miller. "But her dad was a military man, and her and her brother would go out every morning and have their x-amount of pushups, their x-amount of sit-ups and a 50-yard dash. And she had to keep up with her brothers. There was no, 'Oh, you're a girl. You can do a little bit less.' And so I learned from that."
That can-do attitude, Miller explained, helped her overcome some very large obstacles early in her life.
"When I was very young I was actually born extremely pigeon-toed," she said. "My legs were completely turned in, and the doctors said that I would never walk. My parents didn't like that opinion, so they went to somebody else. And the next doctor said, "She'll walk, but we're not sure how well."
A young and competitive Miller didn't care about those diagnoses. Instead, she was too busy trying to keep up with her older sister, even while wearing corrective leg braces. About eight months later, the braces came off, and Miller never looked back. The rest of her story is well known, as she today is the most decorated American gymnast – male or female – in history.
"Obviously, without the benefit of sports, without having physical activity in my life, who knows where I would be at this point," she said.
As council chairman, Brooks headlines a noted group of athletes that in addition to Miller includes 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; Shaquille O'Neal, center for the Miami Heat and four-time world champion; and Corey Simon, former NFL defensive tackle.
In addition, the council is comprised of representatives from the academic realm, the health care field, parks and recreation and the business sector as well as members of state and local governments and private citizens.
For more information on the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, visit HealthyFloridians.com.