Friday, March 27, 2009

Atlanta Falcons cornerback speaks out about his learning disability

From the Belleville News-Democrat in Illinois:

Atlanta Falcons cornerback David Irons Jr., (pictured) who professed to be 18 several times although he actually is 26, easily mingled with the high school students at Student Transition Day on March 25 at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.

Dressed in blue jeans and a baseball cap, he did seem young, but he is a real NFL football player who has been through some tough stuff to get to where he is.

Irons was part of a Disabilities Awareness Program. He is a national spokesman for the Learning Disabilities Association of America and has a company, Iron 2 Impact Inc., along with his father, who obviously was and is a big influence in his life.

As a week-old infant, Irons was rushed to the hospital after an allergic reaction to the soy in his baby formula. He was near death for a while, and doctors said the result might be brain damage. But he seemed normal as he grew up.

Irons turned out to be a slow learner who had to have things repeated and repeated and repeated. In high school football, he was a star. But in class, he was struggling.

His journey to get help started one day in high school when he had to read a page of a book aloud in class. He said he avoided it every way he could and had the kids laughing at his descriptions of avoiding being called on. But, eventually, he was caught and had to read. He said he was stuttering and having a lot of trouble.

"The teacher thought I was joking around, and she said 'Read it again. Read it again or go to the principal.' I'm like, send me to the principal," Irons said.

It was the beginning of addressing his learning disability.

"I never wanted to admit I had a problem," he said.

After high school in Georgia, Irons played football at Butler Community College in Kansas and then Auburn University. At one point, struggling with classes, football and injuries, he wanted to quit. His dad talked to him and convinced him to keep trying.

"Like Dad said, we were sitting in the car and he was talking to me. He did threaten me, too. He didn't tell you that," David Jr. said.

"He wasn't supposed to tell that," David Sr. said, later.

When Irons struggled in college, he got a tutor, it seemed like 24 hours a day, he said. But he worked hard and graduated with a degree in sociology.

"I'm so proud," he said.

In 2007, he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. When asked about how much he makes, he said $2.5 million, truly impressing the crowd of youngsters.

"But that money goes all to my dad," he said.

He encouraged the kids to keep trying and not to get discouraged.

"A lot of people don't like to talk about it (disabilities)," he said. "I'm not scared. I'm here, talking to you guys. You can make it. Don't get down on yourselves."