It is said the true measure of a man is what he does when no one is watching. Joe Barksdale has had millions watching him on the field, but his visits to the Salvation Army men’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, ARC, have been done out of the limelight. The trips are not part of a team event, and the center does not even have to ask him to come back. Barksdale has taken it upon himself to go to ARC on a regular basis.
“I think it helps a lot. I know morale isn’t tangible, but you can feel the morale boost and see guys’ spirits getting higher,” said Barksdale. “Sometimes an encouraging word and someone showing they care can mean the whole world to you.”
Rohn Beardsley, ARC’s communications coordinator, knows the kind of impact Barksdale has on the men in the program does not come simply from showing up.
“I’ve been through the program, so I know how important it is to get people in here,” said Beardsley. “But few and far between embrace us as much as we embrace him. Joe’s completely embraced us.”
To understand why Barksdale connected with the men of ARC so quickly, look no farther than his namesake. Growing up, Barksdale’s father, Joseph, worked as a preacher at a drug rehabilitation center. When asked how his father reacted to hearing about his work at ARC, Barksdale says with a huge smile on his face, “he was a proud man, just like any dad would be. He’s one of the reasons I’m into giving back to people so much. My dad grew up in the projects, so he knows what it means to not have. So he always instilled in me and my brothers the importance of giving back.”
“I was ecstatic and elated at his work,” said Joseph. “But it was also expected. In our family, serving others is what you do. Football is his career, but serving is what life is about, bringing hope to those who don’t have it. If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. If more people took that stance the world would be a better place.”
“He’s the epitome of what a young athlete should be in society,” said Beardsley, who also spoke of Barksdale like a proud father. “He does things for the right reasons, is there to help others, and has a good head on his shoulders. He’s a role model we can all grab a hold of and know he’s not going to disappoint us.”
Barksdale has won the designation as such a tangible role model thanks to a willingness to be vulnerable with the men in the program. Beardsley recalled one visit in particular after Barksdale had lost someone close to him. He got up in front of the group to explain what losing this person meant to his career and spiritual life and how he was turning to God to get him through the rough time. Then, the 6’5” 320 pound pro football player broke down in tears.
“Many of us get to that point here,” said Beardsley. “To see a man of that stature and a professional have it happen to him opened a lot of eyes here. This is what life is all about. It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are.”
Barksdale’s work at ARC and the donation of his all-community team tickets to the group has helped him win this week’s community player of the week award.
“When you spend time around Joe, you are struck by what a great guy he is and you are impressed with his passion around his current efforts and his vision for future plans to give back,” said Molly Higgins, Rams’ vice president of corporate communications and civic affairs.
“He does a lot of things totally under the radar. He’s not seeking the publicity that many times accompanies the charitable work of professional athletes. This recognition is a way to thank him for the many things that we know about it, and probably countless other efforts that he’s done on his own and never told us about,” laughed Higgins.
In addition to his efforts with ARC, this offseason he has also served as the celebrity chair for the Southside Early Childhood Education center gala and spoke at the 100 Black Men Youth Summit.
I asked Barksdale when he knew he would be able to have such a big impact on the lives of others. He said it was one of his first thoughts after getting drafted.
“I’ve always been big into community service,” said Barksdale. “It’s about giving someone else hope and letting people know all isn’t lost.”
About the Rams Community Player of the Week Each week during the 2014 season, the St. Louis Rams will select a player who has made a positive impact on the Greater St. Louis community, giving of himself off the field. Each honored Rams Community Player of the Week will receive a gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the Official Steak House of the St. Louis Rams.