Thaddeus Bullard, aka WWE Superstar and WWE Global Ambassador Titus O’Neil, has been dubbed one of the most philanthropic WWE Superstars ever. As part of the WWE Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, Bullard was recently named the 2020 Warrior Award winner for his philanthropic work. He is President of the Bullard Family Foundation and strives to make a difference in the Tampa Bay community.
To kick off pediatric cancer awareness month this September, Bullard, along with the Bullard Family Foundation and Heritage Insurance, gave a $100,000 donation to the V Foundation for Cancer Research through WWE’s Connor’s Cure.
Thaddeus spoke with the V Foundation regarding his upbringing, his involvement with WWE, the Bullard Family Foundation, his involvement with cancer and the generous donation.
The V Foundation: Your story is a powerful one, constantly overcoming obstacles that were in front of you from the day you were born. Two meaningful phrases from your childhood were “I love you and I believe in you” and “there’s no such thing as a bad kid.” How have you let those statements shape you to this day?
Thaddeus Bullard: “When I heard the statement ‘I love you and I believe in you’ it was at a time in my life where other people had told me that they loved me but then turned around and abused me, beat me and cursed me. Nobody had ever told me that they believed I could do anything. It was always the complete opposite. They always told me as a kid that I would never graduate from high school, I would never go to college, the list goes on and on. Being told that someone believed in me at the right time in my life gave me the confidence and understanding to start believing in myself. That switch is also what helps me talk to, inspire and motivate other people. At 12 years old I had this conversation, and my life was changed. So, my focus has been on kids, to get others to believe in them. You never know what can happen when you make the right investment into the right kid.
There are no such things as bad kids. You might have kids who are in bad situations, make bad decisions or have bad influences and have some bad outcomes. You take those same exact kids and put them in a good environment around good people they will have a better chance to succeed and a greater output. That’s how my life was. I was a kid in a bad situation and in a bad environment that got placed in a great environment around great people and I had a greater chance to succeed. Therefore, I became the first person in my family to graduate high school. I was the first person in my family to graduate college. I went to the University of Florida and played football there. I won numerous awards academically and athletically. I was the vice president of the student government there.
The phrases ‘There is no such thing as a bad kid’ and ‘I love you and I believe in you’ all go together in one direction. Folks ask me all the time why is it that I spend so much time and resources helping people, my response is ‘how could I not?’ I am here and I wasn’t supposed to be here.”
TVF: Growing up, you played football and then became a scholar athlete at the University of Florida. Did you have dreams of being involved with the WWE as a kid? What made you get involved with the WWE?
TB: “I was a huge fan growing up. I got into a lot of arguments with my mom about staying up to watch Monday Night RAW. Luckily for me, my grandmother was a huge wrestling fan. She would always go to bat for me, saying he will be alright and that she would make sure I would get up in the morning. That was our thing. Saturday mornings we would watch Captain Caveman, the Smurfs and then ‘wrastlin’, as grandma used to call it.
Growing up, many people on tv didn’t look like me. Junkyard Dog was probably my favorite at the time because he looked like me. Then Ron Simmons came along, and he was the first African American champion in wrestling. That gave me hope that me or someone that looked like me could do something like this and be very successful at it. Dave Bautista, one of my best friends, encouraged me to give it a try and pursue it. After my tryout, on my way home, WWE called and said that I would be given a shot. At the time I was supposed to go and coach football. I had to make a decision pretty quickly. Two weeks later I walked in that back door and I haven’t looked back. I am still here and in the Hall of Fame.”
TVF: The Bullard Family Foundation does a lot of work in your hometown of Tampa, Fla. One project in particular is the Thaddeus M Bullard Academy at Sligh Middle School. Can you tell us about that program?
TB: “It’s a public school that has the sixth-highest percentage of children living in poverty in the state of Florida. I started going to the school in 2016 and I was so excited to be able to do birthday parties for kids that couldn’t afford birthday parties because I had never had a birthday party as a kid. That morphed into not only doing birthday parties but also celebrating perfect attendance as well as academic increases. We didn’t limit it to honor roll students because not everyone iscapable of being honor roll students for various reasons. Everyone is capable of being an honor roll human being, which is why we titled the program Champions of Character.
“I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with someone with the school district and that is how we emerged with plans of what I thought would be a pretty cool vision of the school. We felt it could change the area and community and hopefully have a domino effect so that other celebrities, athletes and business leaders decide to invest in public schools and inspire transformations. We are doing really cool things. We take these kids to football games, hockey games…Universal Studios. We do a lot. It helps the entire Bay area.”
“We have two full-time staff members that work with students in career services. They work with students on getting jobs, writing their resumes together. Interviewing skills. Getting professional training. We have a culinary program there as part of the Feeding America network. We have students that are 18+ that are making a livable wage and going to culinary class four days and working out of a warehouse one day. They can get their certifications to be able to do more when they finish. We have two community gardens on campus, and one of the community gardens is provided by WWE.”
All the people around me have the same goal in mind and that is to make a transformational change in the kids. We have a very high standard of excellence; we expect excellence and greatness out of each and every person we come in contact with. We possess the knowledge that we are not perfect people but when we align ourselves with great people, great things can happen.”
TVF: Cancer impacts everyone, whether through yourself, friends or family. How has it impacted you?
TB: “I lost my grandmother to breast cancer in 1995. Before I met Connor Michalek, I met a kid named Logan from Tampa, Fla. Logan was five at the time. I randomly met him when I received a Facebook request saying that he wanted to meet a WWE Superstar and I actually had a meeting with him two days later. I got the message in my inbox and got up early and put a bunch of stuff together. I was assuming I would meet the kid, talk to him, meet his family and then leave. I ended up driving an hour and 15 minutes from my house. I went out there and mom and dad came out and mom had tears in her eyes. She was so thankful that I came saying that Logan was going to love this. I walked into the house and Logan sat up and smiled and then his mom started bawling. His dad said that was the first time they had seen their son smile in three months. They didn’t have a gaming system to play a WWE video game I had brought, so I got in my car and rode down the road and bought them a PlayStation. Then I took it back and got it hooked up and played with them. What I thought was going to be a 20-minute meet and greet ended up being four hours. We played games and everyone was happy.”
Not long later, while I was at a soccer practice for my sons, I got a phone call from Jim, Logan’s dad. He was crying and said Logan was gone. I talked to Jim and offered if there was anything I could do and see if his other sons could come to my house while they made arrangements. They came to my house, played with my kids, went to the movies and hung out. That was my first time going to a funeral for a kid. Maybe three weeks after I met Connor Michalek and, not too long after that, Connor lost his battle. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids.”
TVF: A few weeks ago, you announced that the Bullard Family Foundation and Heritage Insurance was donating $100,000 to Connor’s Cure through the V Foundation and that your contribution would support the Dick Vitale $1 million Match Challenge during pediatric cancer awareness month. Why is cancer research important?
“Dick Vitale kicked off this month with a $1 million challenge to raise money for kids. I’m very proud that the Bullard Family Foundation along with Heritage Insurance could kick off the campaign with a $100,000 donation in honor of Connor Michalek, his family and Connor’s Cure. This was not the first time we have donated to the V Foundation. We just wanted to do it before the month started and this story was just the perfect way to kick off the campaign the right way.
Some people ask about my affinity with the V Foundation and helping kids with cancer. A very small percentage of government funds are going toward helping these families and these children. We need to make up for it. There are too many talented doctors, talented researchers, that don’t have the funding to go and accelerate finding a cure. If we could get that funding, not only can we help accelerate finding a cure, but we could help spread that message a little bit.”
TVF: At the V Foundation, our mantra is simple – Victory Over Cancer®. What does Victory Over Cancer mean to you?
TB: “Victory over cancer means we came out on the winning side. No more kids are affected. No more families are affected by this disease. It will be fully eradicated. Anyone who has played a team sport knows that it takes everybody to have a culture of winning and tradition. Part of being a great team and a great coach, you have great doctors and you have great facilities. The V Foundation has a great amount of support and a lot of great sources. People should believe in the V Foundation and what it stands for. If all of us work in the same direction, we will achieve Victory Over Cancer.”