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Trauma Response Center grabs NFL star's heart

Courtney, a docile golden retriever, is a comfort to children who come to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay's Apple Trauma Response Center.

But officials at the nonprofit never knew she could win over the heart of a 6-foot-6, 320-pound NFL behemoth.

Apple, part of the umbrella of services offered by the crisis center, helps children under 18 who have experienced sexual abuse, assault or other traumatic events. Courtney's presence puts kids at ease and makes it easier for them to discuss their experiences.

During Super Bowl week, Courtney put Albert Haynesworth at ease. The former Tennessee Titans defensive tackle, who recently signed with the Washington Redskins, found time amid all of the hoopla to commit to several endeavors.

In addition to touring the center, he spent time at three schools and helped American Idol winner Jordin Sparks with her charitable efforts.

Yet the center tour resonated most. Officials say he teared up when speaking about how the center's efforts related to his own childhood.

"My mom was in an abusive relationship when I was a kid, so it kind of hit home for me," Haynesworth said of the tour. "For them to have the dog, and the way they treat the kids, there was a connection."

Haynesworth took note of all of the services offered by the center, including the 211 crisis counseling hotline and the economic support services for families struggling to pay basic bills.

"They're really not helping just one set of people, but a whole lot of people in different situations," he said.

Haynesworth offered to champion the center's mission if he joined the Bucs.

Although the Redskins eventually won the Haynesworth sweepstakes with a seven-year, $100 millon contract, that doesn't mean the crisis center lost out.

On Saturday, Haynesworth will co-host Survivor Tampa Bay, a fundraiser for the center taking place at a private residence in Lutz. Event tickets are $100 ($150 for couples) for the poolside party that will feature a life-sized pirate ship. Go to www.crisiscenter.com for tickets and more info.

"The easiest thing I could do is come out and lend my time," Haynesworth said.

No, the easiest thing would have been to focus on himself and living up to the big contract.

There likely will be questions about his motivations. Last week, Haynesworth was indicted on two misdemeanor charges from a December accident that left another driver seriously injured.

He also got a public black eye (not to mention a five-game suspension) in 2006 when he kicked a Dallas Cowboys player in the head after his helmet came off.

Haynesworth declined comment on the latest incident, but I'm not convinced he's looking for favorable publicity. So often we want to label folks as good or bad when in reality defining someone is more difficult. I'm seeing him as a work in progress who saw a chance to help, and didn't hesitate.

"He was one of the kindest human beings you'd want to meet," crisis center executive director David Braughton said. "He shared that his mom had been abused and that he spent quite a bit of time in shelters for domestic violence and programs like ours.

"It was clear that we had a special place in his heart."

If Haynesworth has found it in his heart to help, maybe you should, too.

That's all I'm saying.

Trauma Response Center grabs NFL star's heart 03/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 11:37pm]

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