Before his football career, business accomplishments and philanthropic endeavors, John Stallworth was a standout football player at Tuscaloosa High School without a college scholarship offer.
The poor quality of his high school team, which won just two games during his junior and senior seasons, obscured his ability to attract attention from college football programs. And his parents were unable to afford the price of college tuition. So Stallworth asked his friend Sylvester Croom, whose dad, Sylvester Croom Sr., played for Alabama A&M, if he could persuade his dad to have Alabama A&M look at him as an athlete. The elder Croom agreed.
Alabama A&M ended up being the lone school to offer Stallworth an athletic scholarship — a gesture that is not lost on Stallworth, and one that inspires him to pay his success forward to this day.
“Had my friend’s father chosen not to do that, was too busy to do that or didn’t care enough to do that, my whole life changes,” Stallworth said.
Stallworth is this year’s recipient of the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award, and will be honored Feb. 21 at the 82nd annual Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction.
“Certainly upon hearing that I was selected, I was honored,” Stallworth said. “When I look back over the past recipients and some folks that I know, and I look their lives and what they have accomplished in their lives. To think that somehow that’s something to be included in their number was humbling and a great honor. We’re excited about the upcoming dinner and receiving the award and hopefully we’ll be able to express that in our remarks.”
In addition to his 14-year Hall of Fame career with the Steelers as a wide receiver, in which he won four Super Bowl rings and retired as the franchise leader in receptions with 537, Stallworth has had an impactful career as a businessman, one that enabled him to become a part-owner of the Steelers in 2009.
He considers the establishment of the John Stallworth Foundation, which was founded in 1980 and has grown to provide over $490,000 in scholarship funding to more than 150 students at Alabama A&M, to be the highlight of his post-Steelers days.
“My background, I don’t think I get to where I am today had I not gotten a scholarship to attend at Alabama A&M through my athletic ability,” Stallworth said. “So I was assisted in that regard. I look around and there are people who have the ability to continue their education and better themselves and their family and their communities if they get an opportunity to continue their education, and don’t have the ability to run fast or jump high to do that.”
Stallworth knew his earnings from his playing career wouldn’t be enough to sustain his family. When he retired at the age of 35 in 1987, the average NFL salary was around $215,000 annually. So he earned an MBA while he was still a player, and in 1986 he launched his first company, Madison Research, with his wife, Flo, and retired Army engineer Sam Hazelrig.
Madison Research, which was founded in Huntsville, Ala., supported local government aerospace and military initiatives. At its peak, Stallworth said, Madison Research employed 750 people and grossed more than $80 million annually. He sold the company in 2006 for $69 million.
Today, Stallworth is a partner at Genesis II, which he co-founded in 2006 to “enhance both partner’s philanthropic support efforts, investments and related business interests,” according to his website. His foundation currently operates under the Genesis II umbrella.
Looking back, he credits his relationships as the reason why he is where he is today. Beyond his friendship with the younger Croom, who is now a running backs coach with the Tennessee Titans, he’s thankful for the numerous relationships — with the Croom family, the Rooney family and many others — that helped him to open doors in the business world during his post-playing career.
“Looking back over our career, there have been people who have helped us to be successful. I realize more and more every day that the most important thing in life, not the accom
plishments, not the material things that happen in your life, not the awards in your life, but the relationships,” Stallworth said.
“Life is about relationships, good, solid relationships. We’ve been blessed over the years to have a number of those. They are things that have continued to shape my life, even at 65.”
Article Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/steelers/2018/01/28/Dapper-Dan-Lifetime-Achievement-Award-John-Stallworth-madison-research-genesis-ii/stories/201801280023