Ex-Steeler Ward speaks of overcoming obstacles

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 12:16 a.m.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Hines Ward told a Fayette County audience Tuesday that he overcame obstacles in life and pro football with hard work and by dismissing the doubters who said he could not succeed.

“I'm never going to buy into what people tell me I can't do,” said Ward, who retired last season after 14 years in a National Football League career highlighted by two Super Bowl victories and a Super Bowl MVP honor in 2006.

Ward told more than 1,500 people who gathered at the Penn State Fayette Campus in North Union that they have to believe in themselves and not worry about those who would put them down.

Ward said he overcame those who considered him too small and too slow to play wide receiver at the top level, despite his success at the University of Georgia as a quarterback and wide receiver. He was not drafted until the third round and was relegated to special teams play in his rookie season.

Ward saw other, supposedly more talented wide receivers —Troy Edwards and Plaxico Burress — drafted in the first round with the intention of replacing him. He said he never let that happen because he took it as a challenge to work harder.

He followed his motto: “Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard” and persevered long after both Edwards and Burress left the Steelers.

“One thing they didn't have was the work ethic,” Ward said.

Ward, whose mother is Korean and whose father is African-American, said he had to overcome prejudice from a variety of sources when he was growing up with a single mother who worked three jobs to support her son. As a youngster growing up in Atlanta, Ward said he was not accepted by blacks because his mother was Korean; he was not accepted by whites because his father was black; and he was not accepted by Koreans because his father was black. He recalled being mocked because he wanted to study hard and succeed.

His way of being accepted was to excel in sports, particularly as quarterback of his high school team. “It's OK to be different,” Ward said.

Ward is an analyst for NBC's Sunday night football games and as fate would have it, will be on the sidelines Sunday night in Pittsburgh when the Steelers face the hated Baltimore Ravens for a crucial game.

“I might run out onto the field and tackle someone,” he quipped.

Ward said to the delight of the audience that he would love to suit up and play the archrival Ravens one more time at Heinz Field.

“Baltimore was a unique week,” for the Steelers, Ward said. “I knew it was going to be a heck of a battle. I think it is the best rivalry in pro football – the most physical one.”

Ward recalled one Ravens defender, whom he did not name, made derogatory comments about his mother.

“I kicked his butt all night long,” Ward said.

As much as he misses the physical contact of football, he does not miss the pain his body felt the day after the games.

He has made a post-NFL career for himself as a sports announcer and was a winner on the popular television show, “Dancing with the Stars.”

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