Freeman giving back in Janesville

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011
— Antonio Freeman spent seven seasons giving Green Bay Packer fans thrills and chills.

His impressive resume with Green Bay includes a championship ring from Super Bowl XXXI in 1997, a game in which he caught a record-setting 81-yard touchdown pass in a 35-21 win over the New England Patriots.

The 38-year-old Freeman’s NFL playing days ended in 2004, but the flamboyant former All-Pro wide out continues to give back.

Freeman was at Janesville Craig High School on Tuesday as part of “Go Pink,” a statewide campaign to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness that is part of the non-profit Leroy Butler Foundation. He spoke to Craig student/athletes after school, and later signed autographs at the Janesville Parker vs. Craig girls junior varsity soccer game. Proceeds from the varsity game went directly to the “Go Pink” campaign.

“It’s another opportunity for me to support ‘Go Pink,’ and also work on creating my own brand, ‘Be More Free,’ a non-profit organization that allows me to give back to the less fortunate in my hometown of Baltimore,” Freeman said.

“Through my non-profit work, I’ve been able to make two trips to Iraq to visit and boost morale of the soldiers. In fact, the last trip I took, we played in what was called the ‘Connect to Home’ bowl game that featured 11 former NFL players.”

Freeman knows the 10 seasons he played in the NFL is not the norm, and that’s what he tried to convey in his message to the student/athletes. Many of those on hand were not old enough to remember what a talented receiver Freeman was or the impact he had as a Packer.

A clip from the memorable Packers vs. Vikings in a Monday night thriller in 2000 allowed the students to put a face to a play they have seen hundreds of times on ESPN. Freeman caught what initially appeared to be an incomplete pass while lying on his back—after almost being intercepted, the ball actually bounced off multiple parts of Freeman’s body without hitting the ground. Untouched by the defender, Freeman jumped to his feet and ran the ball in for the winning touchdown in overtime.

“Stay in school. There are a ton of talented athletes across the country, and the only thing that separates some elite athletes from average athletes are grades,” Freeman said. “And for the majority that won’t have the opportunity to play in the pros, they will have something to fall back on.

“Sports can take you in a lot of different avenues. You have to utilize whatever your interests are and let that channel you through life. But you also have to think outside the box.”

Despite being out of the NFL since 2004, Freeman keeps close ties to the league that afforded him a life of luxury. He has no doubts there will be football in the fall, despite the current NFL lockout.

“It’s a $9 billion dollar industry. They’re not going to walk away from it,” Freeman said. “There are a lot of things that still need to be settled, and it’s going to get ugly before it even gets cloudy.

“From cloudy, we may finally get some sunshine. It will be a difficult year for the fans and the players because of everything that has happened, but there will be football. The NFL will not walk away from this money.”

Just like Antonio Freeman can’t walk away from helping others.

Last updated: 5:18 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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