GREEN BAY — Any opportunity to deliver a message to a large group of men is always a good thing, said Harry Sydney, who will serve as emcee at the March 5 Green Bay Men’s Conference. The three-time Super Bowl champion and former NFL assistant coach has been delivering messages to boys and men of all ages for the past 13 years through his nonprofit organization, My Brother’s Keeper, Inc., based in Green Bay.
“The cool thing with all the different speakers at this conference is everybody will have the same type of message, but coming from different places,” said Sydney. “My job as emcee is pretty cool. It’s to paint a picture so everybody can see it. I’m the translator.”
The conference, entitled “Men for All Seasons,” will feature four speakers: Mike McCarthy, head coach of the Green Bay Packers; Jim VandeHey, outdoorsman and retreat leader; Fr. Peter Mitchell, pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Greenville; and Antonio J. Soave, a successful CEO and founder of the Global Foundation of Peace through Soccer. The event, which will be held at the KI Convention Center, will open with a welcome by Sydney at 8:30 a.m.
“I just think it’s going to be a great day to empower men; a great day for men to have fellowship,” said Sydney, who closed out his playing career with the Packers in 1992. “Men, who don’t know what they are looking for, may find a place.”
When Sydney and his wife, Madonna, started My Brother’s Keeper in 2003, they recognized a need to get to the root of many family problems.
“Our society wants to help women, kids and animals,” said Sydney. “They want to build more domestic violence shelters, which is awesome for the ladies that need it. I wish they didn’t, but they do. They want to add more after-school programs and get better shelters for animals. All those are the trickle-down effect of men not doing their job.”
Sydney works with human services, schools, probation and parole officers, judges, lawyers, district attorneys and care workers. He has completed more than 30,000 mentoring sessions since the organization’s inception. My Brother’s Keeper is open by phone 24 hours, seven days a week.
“A lot of people want to change, but they don’t know how to change,” he explained. “A lot of it is about their relationship with Christ, but they don’t know that yet. There are so many other things that get in the way. I am planting the seeds. I’ve had murderers, pedophiles, gangbangers, bikers. Everybody has stuff. I leave it to them. They have to discover it on their own. I tell my clients, ‘I’m not going to work harder than you.’”
Sydney draws on his personal experiences to help others. His father was abusive to his mother, who was an alcoholic. He also dealt with prejudice growing up in the south.
“I had to come to terms with my dad, my mom, that life,” he said. “Those trials and tribulations made me stronger. That was the journey God put me on. The only problem was, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t my journey; it was (God’s).”
Sydney credits the late Reggie White with helping him find his faith. They became close as teammates with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL. Faith is a key component when he mentors someone who is struggling.
“We worry about things we can’t control, instead of controlling the things we can,” he said. “In my opinion, God wants us to control what we can because he will control the things we can’t. That’s the biggest battle men have.”
Several photos from Sydney’s career are displayed in his office. The images of him with the likes of Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott serve a purpose. They help to break the ice with clients, help them relax. Sydney also works outside the office. For example, every Tuesday, he serves at the juvenile detention center, meeting with kids who were arrested.
“When you go in there and see their orange jumpsuit and know they are wearing state-issued underwear, the first thing I ask is, ‘How is your way working?’ It’s not working,” said Sydney, who holds a degree in criminal and juvenile justice from the University of Kansas.
When dealing with men referred to him by human services, sometimes tough decisions are necessary.
“You have guys who don’t think it’s their fault,” he explained. “There have been times when I have said, ‘He needs to go to jail. He doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong, so he’s dangerous.’”
In addition to drawing on the difficult times in his life, Sydney points to his perseverance that led to his success as a football player. He first tried to make the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 1981. He didn’t make it in the league until 1987. He recalls a turning point when working a graveyard shift job during a crossroads in his football career.
“This guy said, ‘Aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m Harry Sydney the football player.’ He said, ‘No you’re not, you’re Harry Sydney the forklift driver.’ Sometimes it takes a stranger to tell you who you are. That’s what our program is about,” said Sydney. “I got mad and sent out my resume to everyone in the NFL. I was told I was too old. Bill Walsh remembered that I had scored a couple touchdowns in the preseason.
“When I meet with a young man and ask him what he wants to be and he says a professional football player, I can say, ‘It’s possible, but you have to work at it,’” he added. “If you want to be a good husband, you have to work at it. If you want to be a good dad, you have to work at it.”
The Green Bay Men’s Conference will close with Mass with Bishop David Ricken at 4 p.m. To register or for more information, visit www.gbmensconference.com.