Giving hope and inspiration

Ohio State Buckeyes Football Head Coach Jim Tressel (left) with Rudolph "Rock" Johnson of the Amer-I-Can Foundation. Photo by Terry Rubinroit

College football players learn about setting a good example as role models and making a positive impact on others, a philosophy of NFL legend Jim Brown.

By Seth Rubinroit / Special to The Malibu Times

The thousands of people in attendance for the USC/Ohio State game on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum and the millions watching on television witnessed dozens of student-athletes who are working hard not only on the football field, but also in the classroom. However, for every student-athlete who gets to study and play college football at the highest level, there are countless others who rob themselves of that opportunity because their gang associations lead them to prison or worse.

To show his team how fortunate they are, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel took valuable time from preparing his fifth-ranked Buckeyes to face the top-ranked Trojans to expose them to stories by members of football legend Jim Brown’s Amer-I-Can Foundation. Brown, whose remarkable talent led him to be named NFL MVP three times and be elected into both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame, now dedicates his time and resources to promoting social change. Brown founded the Amer-I-Can Life Management Skills curriculum 20 years ago to teach the importance of self-determination and to help challenged youth turn their lives around. Since then, the 60-90 hour program has expanded its reach across the country, and helped thousands of people take control of their lives and their futures.

At the Ohio State event, which took place Friday morning at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the Buckeyes heard stories from former criminals and gang members whose lives were transformed after completing the Amer-I-Can curriculum. Rudolph “Rock” Johnson, who spent 17 years in jail and was shot 11 times and stabbed five times, confessed that he would have ended up either dead or back in prison if Brown had not taken a personal interest in his desperate situation. Today, Johnson runs the Amer-I-Can club basketball team, helping high school students who cannot afford the cost of private club teams gain exposure and hopefully earn a college scholarship.

The message that the Amer-I-Can speakers preached to the Buckeyes’ players was of the rewards that come from setting a good example as role models, and dedicating one’s time to making a positive impact on the lives of others.

“This will help our kids,” said Tressel, who has led the Buckeyes to the last two national championship games. “What we hope to be about as a football program is helping our young men make a difference in their lives, and then going out and making a difference in other’s lives.”

Brown and Tressel have been close friends since Tressel took his Buckeye team to a jail in Los Angeles in 2001 to watch prisoners participate in the Amer-I-Can program. Since then, Tressel, who grew up idolizing Brown, has called upon Brown to help him when he senses a player is on the wrong path.

“Every time I have asked Jim to take time with one of my individuals, or one of my teams, he has said everything that I would ever hope anyone would say,” Tressel said. “[Brown] is a special guy, a difference maker.”

Throughout the presentation, the Buckeye players sat quietly, either praying or reflecting on the direction of their lives after football.

“Days like this are critical for us,” Tressel said. “This was very valuable for everyone in this room.”

While Tressel and the Amer-I-Can staff hope that every Buckeye player heeds Brown’s example off the field, one player-running back, Chris “Beanie” Wells, is following in Brown’s footsteps on the field. Wells is known for his size and power, and for his punishing running style that strikes fear in the eyes of defensive players. This has led many college football experts to compare Wells’ playing style to Brown’s.

For more information about the Amer-I-Can Program, go to