- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Reggie White loved life, his own and the lives of others as well.

He didn’t want to die and worried about his health. When I spent the day with him nearly a year ago, he talked about the health value of “juicing” — not in reference to steroids, as we have come to hear the term used, but to his juice machine, which he used to get more fruits and vegetables into his system.

“You can juice anything — beets, anything,” he said, smiling, in that raspy but friendly voice of his. “It’s great for you because you can get all the vitamins and minerals you need.”

That’s why it was surprising to hear White passed away at 43 Sunday morning in his North Carolina home, reportedly as a result of a respiratory disease and other health problems that possibly included sleep apnea, though the final cause of his death has not been determined. He took care of himself in his post-NFL life because, as much as anything, Reggie White felt he had so much more to offer people than what he did on the football field in the NFL for 15 seasons.

He worked with his ministry to reach out to other athletes who needed help, such as former Redskin Dexter Manley — who was, in some ways, a clone of White on the field, an incomparable combination of speed and strength at defensive end. He worked with inner city youth to try to give them hope while they drowned in hopelessness.

And when I spent the day with White last winter, he was talking about his new venture with Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs — establishing a minority racing team to try to knock down more barriers and create more opportunities for those who just wanted to find a way to make a living.

Reggie White wanted to make another way of life available for those looking for hope and was willing to put his money and time into that effort. But he needed help and wound up in a partnership with Gibbs — finally getting the chance to work with the coach he had admired for so long.

White got interested in racing two years ago when his friend, former NFL running back Leonard Wheeler, told him about the growing movement to increase minority representation in racing. “I went to a race after that and got more excited about it. My adrenaline got flowing when I saw how fast those cars were going. Leonard told me that if we were going to go into Winston Cup [now Nextel Cup] racing, we needed a partner. I said if I had a partner in racing, it would be Joe Gibbs.”

Coincidentally, White nearly had come to play for the Redskins after the 1992 season, when he was one of the most sought-after free agents in NFL history as one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the existing free agent market. But on March5, 1993, Gibbs announced his resignation as Redskins coach. One month later, White signed with the Green Bay Packers, changing the face of the franchise and helping to lead the Packers back to championship glory.

“That’s what changed the football fortunes of this franchise,” Packers president Bob Harlan said. “He sent a message to the rest of the NFL that Green Bay was a great place to play.”

That is what the presence of Reggie White did, whether it was on the football field or at a local dirt track — it sent a message that there was something strong and real happening there. He certainly did that in the NFL as one of the greatest defensive ends in the history of the game, retiring after the 2000 season with 198 career sacks in 15 seasons with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. And now he was trying to do that same thing in NASCAR racing — send a message and make an impact.

In 2004, under the leadership of White and Gibbs, Chris Bristol, who is black, competed in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at Caraway Speedway in Ashboro, N.C., while Aric Almirola, a Hispanic, competed in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C. Bristol scored one victory and finished fourth in the Caraway point standings, while Almirola won three races and finished 11th in points at Ace.

Yesterday at Redskin Park, Gibbs talked about White.

“I think he’s one of the greatest players who’s ever played,” Gibbs said. “I got to know him personally in Charlotte because he lived three blocks from me, and then we got in a relationship in racing. … He was working real close with J.D. [Gibbs’ son] and everybody else who was at the race shop. He came over and did Bible studies for our team. I’ve got to tell you, he had an impact on so many people. What he’s done for the Lord would be hard to put in words. He was a great leader and a great person.”

Reggie White did not get the chance to see his impact on NASCAR and racing. His life was cut short. He had far too much work left, helping others find a better way to live. He was no saint — his comments about gays and ethnic beliefs brought him much criticism — but there was no hate in his heart. He was guided by his beliefs, and one of the things he believed was trying to make the world a better place. He was “juiced up” about helping others. It’s what he loved.

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