RANSON – Steve Fitzhugh, the onetime Denver Broncos defensive back set to deliver a motivational talk here tonight, says young people today face many of the same challenges he did growing up in Ohio in the 1980s.
But in key ways, students today have an even tougher time, notes the 49-year-old. Thanks to the Internet, the world is a smaller place where pornography and other temptations are easier than ever to access, he said.
“Now kids are within a couple of clicks of seeing everything” related to sex, said Fitzhugh, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury after just two years in the NFL. The Akron, Ohio, native now works full-time as an author and speaker to school groups, pro and collegiate athletic teams and in other forums.
“Students are engaging in behaviors that weren’t even possible when I was coming up,” Fitzhugh said. “You hear about girls sending comprising pictures of themselves to a boyfriend, photos that he then shares with his friends. Students get bullied over these images – even urged to commit suicide.
“There’s absolutely been a huge cultural shift that has young people today navigating so much more than we faced years ago.”
The Minneapolis resident, whose free talk to Jefferson County parents, students and parents begins at 6 p.m. at the Ranson Civic Center, says his aim is to help students realize they must make the correct choices today in order to have the life they want as adults.
He also exhorts parents to become more involved in their children’s daily decisions. “So many kids today are victims of adult failure in their lives,” said Fitzhugh, who with his wife, Karen Broussard-Fitzhugh, is raising two daughters, one in college and another in high school. “It’s not enough to just put food on the table and provide shelter. You have to be actively engaged in their lives.”
In Fitzhugh’s own life, he said a guiding hand from a youth minister helped put his life on its current path.
“When I was 12, I encountered a local pastor who became a father figure to me,” said Fitzhugh, who went on to win a scholarship to play football at Miami University in Ohio. “He taught me principles that prevented me from getting caught up in the drinking, smoking, drugs and other destructive behavior that was all around.”
Fitzhugh said he was also driven by his own desire for a better life – one without the hardships created by addiction to tobacco, alcohol, drugs and other ills. “I saw so much of that in my own family,” he said. “My mother spent much of her life abusing alcohol and tobacco. I saw my older brother, who had a huge basketball talent, locked up for snatching purses. He forfeited this tremendous ability to alcohol, marijuana and eventually coke.”
By the time Fitzhugh entered high school in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, he was a star both on the football field and in track and field, where he ranked among the nation’s five best sprinters.
Fitzhugh, who earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration before joining the NFL, pursued a Master of Divinity degree after his NFL injury, studying at Howard University in D.C. Next, Fitzhugh moved to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Belcourt, N.D., where he worked with public and private school students in drug and alcohol prevention.
Fitzhugh – also a national spokesman for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ One Way 2 Play: Drug Free program – will present his message tonight at the civic center at 431 W. Second Ave. The program is sponsored by the Jefferson County Title I Parent Advisory Council.