My Elite Network: What do you remember about high school?
Burgess Owens: That’s a pretty good place to start because I was very fortunate to grow up in the 1960s in the segregated south in Tallahassee, Florida. I grew up in a segregated community, a very proud, very successful and very entrepreneurial community. It was the kind of environment that taught us that we can overcome. We could do anything we wanted to if we worked hard. At that time, black athletes were being integrated into all-white schools. Some kids would commit and then not see it through, but four of us decided to finish it. It was the best decision that I made. I made it through that year and earned the respect of the other players. But more importantly, all of us looked at ourselves and realized that we did it – we didn’t quit. That experience led to other successes.
My Elite Network: Why did you choose to attend the University of Miami?
Burgess Owens: Another good question. I went to Miami for one reason, I hated the cold! Plus, I was interested in marine biology. It was a great fit.
My Elite Network: Do you remember being drafted?
Burgess Owens: It was at a different time, we didn’t have ESPN or social media. I knew that I had a good chance, but I had no idea that I was drafted. I remember that I was walking past the football office and Coach called me in. He told I had been drafted. I was kind of surprised.
My Elite Network: What do you recall from playing for the Jets? The Raiders?
Burgess Owens: During my time with the New York Jets, it was a rough six years. We lost a lot, but I learned a great deal from that. I had to find a way to stay positive and to work hard. I actually considered retiring after my 7th season because I was just so tired of losing, you just get so fed up with it. I still had a lot of football in me, so when I had the chance to go to the Raiders, I went. When you look at everyone who was on the Raiders, I think all of us were tired of losing. My first season with the Raiders, we went to the Super Bowl. It was great.
My Elite Network: What was your relationship like with Al Davis?
Burgess Owens: Who could blame someone who’s so committed to one thing and its culture? There is something about the Raiders culture, an organization that is very unique. I only played three years with the Raiders. It’s a different feeling when you are part of football team, a physical tie that is hard to describe.
My Elite Network: What do you hope people learn from you?
Burgess Owens: My focus is on the black community and I recognize that we have a tremendously rich, proud and successful history and we can do it again. The one thing that has disappointed me the most is the trajectory of the black community. It has been moving in the wrong direction. I realized over time that we had to get a message out to let America know how successful the black race is and how great our country has allowed us to become. So, this is just an extension of what I’ve always looked at as my life’s mission, and I’m thankful that I played football. That gave me an opportunity to share my beliefs. We live in a country that allows us to dream our dreams – indivisible. We learn along the way because we’re on the way to succeed and it is never easy. That’s the part that we must get our kids to understand, dreaming is a great opportunity. We must find the best in ourselves and that means a lot of work and a lot of failure and disappointment. It isn’t until we continue to grow that things always go right, there are a lot of humbling moments. Any time I look back on my past, one the best things that happened to me was that I learned how to get out of it. Every one of us goes through life and overcomes obstacles and when we do, we can win. It’s about what our real value of our life is. We go to jobs, we have friends, but the real meaning of our life is to make sure our kids and grandkids are empowered to give them opportunities and to be proud of themselves. Make it where our kids are more successful than we are. My message now is it, if I can do it, you can do it. I’m nothing special I just learned how to not quit.
My Elite Network: What are you doing now?
Burgess Owens: When I left the game, I went into business. I’ve always wanted to run a business, but seven years later, I closed it. It was a very humbling experience and a good experience to look back on. We learn the lessons on the football field and can apply them to life. So, I went into a corporate environment. Now I am a business owner and, of course, I’m very much politically tuned in. It is important to me to improve our communities and our nation again. I’m doing a lot of speaking and public appearances. Lately, I’ve had a chance to speak quite a bit on FOX and on several other channels. We have talked about athletes sitting and kneeling for the flag. My message has always been that we stand for pride in our country. Our county has given all of us so much. Whenever we have a chance to show our appreciation we need to, because our kids are watching us. We have young people looking at us.
My Elite Network: What do you see yourself doing in 5 years? What will we be celebrating?
Burgess Owens: We will be celebrating a country that is more united and is a country that is superior to those who try to divide us. A country that we can all agree that the flag unites, no matter how much we may disagree. We have hope and a second chance. We’re going to look back and say that it was tough times, but we came through it.
Author: Celi Leggett
Recently retired from a successful 25 year career in education/administration, Celi Leggett, is known as an amateur photographer being featured in several Mississippi Cookbooks and Colorado College sports publications. Her eye for detail and personal relationship skills bring a sense of thoughtfulness to her writing.