FOOTBALL

Life after football: Former Florida safety Major Wright finds purpose in helping others

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
Florida's Major Wright tries to get the crowd pumped during the third quarter of the Florida vs. Auburn game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in September 2007.

Hard-hitting former Florida Gators safety Major Wright faced hard times after his NFL career ended.

Broke and depressed, Wright was in a dark place while seeking purpose in the second chapter of his life beyond football.

“Football was my identity,” Wright said. “It was who I was. So at one point I was confused. I was just on this earth, living, and at one point I did not want to be on this earth because of how things were going.”

A new calling came four years ago, one that transformed Wright’s outlook and spawned a passion to help others.

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Good Deed Tuesday is born

Former Florida Gators players Major Wright and Tim Tebow on the field during warm-ups before the Nov. 2, 2019 Georgia-Florida game  TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

It began when Wright met a homeless person on a street corner. With what little money Wright had left in his bank account, he bought the man a burger. Then he learned his story. The man had robbed a bank, done 10 years in prison, and had no family and friends to count on when he was released.

What the man needed most was identification. With an ID, the man explained, he could get a job and provide for himself. So Wright drove the man to a local tax collector’s office and gave him money for a new ID card. It was a Tuesday.

“From that day on, every Tuesday, I wanted to go out in the community, and I wanted to do random acts of kindness to make an impact and to get the same feeling that I had got for doing that good deed,” Wright said.

On that day, Wright’s Good Deed Tuesday idea took shape. This spring, Wright launched GDT into a school program and published a comic book with a role model in the form of a superhero, Mr. GDT, who gains strength by helping others.

Wright has spoken to students at schools in Fort Lauderdale and Tampa and is planning to speak at Lake Forest Elementary School in Gainesville this fall.

“It’s a feeling that’s unmatched right now, knowing that I’m having fun and I’m impacting the kids in a positive way,” Wright said. “Something that’s going to change their life for the rest of their life with how they treat people.”

Lake Forest Principal Beth LeClair expects Wright's message to resonate with her students. 

“Coming out of COVID and remote learning, we are seeing our elementary-aged students missed critical socialization milestones,” LeClair said. “Children need communication and conflict resolution support now more than ever. GDT provides a positive and fun way to teach these important life skills in the classroom.”

From the Gators to the NFL

Florida's Major Wright against LSU in October 2007 in Baton Rouge.

A Fort Lauderdale native, Wright starred at UF from 2007 to 2009 and was a key cog on defense in the school’s 2008 BCS national title team. In that game against Oklahoma, Wright had nine tackles and an interception and set the tone for the game early with a hard hit to Oklahoma receiver Manny Johnson on a pass breakup.

After finishing with 165 tackles and eight interceptions and one touchdown in three years at UF, Wright declared for the NFL draft following the 2009 season. Selected by the Chicago Bears in the third round of the 2010 draft, Wright played six seasons with the Bears and Tampa Bay Bucs, finishing his pro career with nine interceptions and three TDs.

During and after Wright’s NFL career, he made a string of bad financial decisions, including being sued for his involvement in borrowing to buy South African diamonds. That left his bank account empty despite making more than $5.7 million in the NFL.

“I went four years with no income, and I ended up going broke,” Wright said.

Bouncing back and giving back

Major Wright gets together  with young fans for a photo during the Orange and Blue game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 10, 2010.

In 2020, Wright wrote an autobiography, "Major Pain: Confessions of a Smashmouth Safety," in which he chronicled the obstacles he faced during and after his football career. His comic book features an African-American superhero who gains power through good deeds.

“I’m on a mission to build a community to get the kids to understand how important it is to treat people to be kind and to care,” Wright said.

One fan of the comic book is Florida football coach Billy Napier. Wright attended a few UF practices this spring. 

“His story, certainly when you meet the guy, he’s got a passion for people,” Napier said. “He’s taken the lessons that he’s learned in his life and he’s trying to help other people so there’s nothing but respect there. He actually gave me a copy of his book and I read it to my kids at bedtime.

“Major is a great example of overcoming ... and certainly a guy that I’ve got a ton of respect for and is welcome here anytime.”

Wright is excited about the direction of the program under Napier.

“He’s bringing major energy and as a coach, that’s what you want to set the foundation to start,” Wright said. “Because you want to get the guys to buy into the program and get them to understand the values that you value as a coach.”

Another prominent Gator with whom Wright has connected is former Heisman-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel, whose Desire Street Ministries have provided programs for underprivileged inner-city youth throughout the Southeast for close to 20 years.

“He has opened up so many other doors for me,” Wright said. “Because of the foundation he’s built now I’m able to use his resources and now piggyback off what he’s doing … he’s an amazing role model for me as well.”

At 34, Wright said he doesn’t see football coaching in his future. Instead, he wants to continue to work with his Wright Way Foundation, which he hopes someday to pass down to his 11-year-old daughter, Maliyah.

“This is more impactful than football,” Wright said. “I can impact kids in a certain way. Football is just my steppingstone to give me my purpose on earth and now my purpose is to give back to kids in a way that’s going to impact them in their life, for the rest of their life.”