Former Steelers star encourages students to rise above challenges


By Andrew Fishman / Staff Writer

Aside from the multiple Super Bowl championships, a Super Bowl MVP award, winning “Dancing with the Stars” and other feats, most people recognize Steelers great Hines Ward for his unique first name.

But on Wednesday night at the Pitt Program Council-sponsored lecture he gave in front of 375 students, Ward said his last name is where he gets his motto.

“Will Always Rise above Difficulty,” said Ward “I was never raised to be a quitter.”

Ward preached this mantra to the students in attendance and discussed his struggles with growing up biracial — his father is black and his mother is Korean — and fighting through other adversities, all while staying positive.

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“At some point, I think everyone faces some adversities,” said Ward in an interview he gave before the lecture. “It’s how you handle it. That’s what builds character.”

Jon Lehan, the executive board director of PPC, said that Ward was chosen for the lecture on the basis of his legacy in Pittsburgh as well as the important issues he was planning on discussing.

“Hines Ward, being an almost legendary figure on [the Pittsburgh Steelers], we felt that he was very relevant to the University community and city itself,” Lehan said. 

Ward spoke about his childhood growing up in a single-parent household and the teasing he faced because he was biracial.

“Everyone knows me for my smile, but to get to know the guy behind the smile, you have to know a little bit about my life,” said Ward.

Overcoming the challenges before him, Ward was able to achieve his goals of getting accepted to the University of Georgia, graduating — he’s the first in his family to do so — and playing professional football in the NFL. Ward stressed the importance of setting goals for oneself.

Another main aspect of Ward’s lecture was the concept of making the right choices.

Ward noted multiple times throughout the night that “life is all about choices.” In an interview, he added that “[he tries] to be the best role model that [he] possibly can, but in life you’re going to make mistakes. It’s important not to dwell on them and to try to find something positive in a negative situation. If you apply that in life, you’ll be all right.”

Ward’s talk was not entirely advice-based. He kept the audience laughing by joking about his lack of hair, his work with Bob Costas and the questionable choices he made along the way, such as blowing money on a convertible while living in chilly Pittsburgh.

In addition, Ward talked about his other adventures since retiring from the NFL, such as performing on — and winning — “Dancing with the Stars,” acting in “The Walking Dead” and “The Dark Knight Rises” as well as competing in an Iron Man competition.

“I wanted to always be known as more than just a football player, but really an all-around guy,” Ward said.

Ward compared himself to Forrest Gump in that he can’t really explain all the success he has had in his life, but he took what was given to him and made the most out of it.

“He’s got a shrimping boat company, I don’t have that,” Ward joked with the crowd. “But I’ve had success.”

Ward’s many fans in the audience were buzzing before he came out to speak, donning “86” jerseys and cheering as he walked on stage. Steelers fan Lisle Weaver, a junior English writing major at Pitt, enjoyed seeing one of his childhood idols in person.

“I think for a popular athlete to come back to Pittsburgh and give advice to students, I think that’s someone they will listen to,” Weaver said. 

Ward’s final message stressed the importance social media plays in our society.

“I really just want to challenge you guys to be careful how you brand yourself,” said Ward. “Let your brand stand for something.”