At 6'4” and 270 pounds of solid muscle, Thaddeus Bullard is more than capable of protecting himself. But he wasn't always. His life nearly ended when he was at his most defenseless.
Bullard, better known to World Wrestling Entertainment as “Titus O'Neil,” revealed that he was conceived after his grandmother's boyfriend raped his mother, who was then just 11 years old.
His family pressured the young girl to have an abortion, but she refused, the Florida native told The Tampa Tribune.
“I love my mom. We’re close,” Bullard said. “She did a lot for me.”
One thing she couldn't do, however, is be a father. Without a male role model and a young mother, he found himself drawn to the streets. After continual trouble in his hometown of Boynton Beach, he spent five years at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch. But the experience set him straight. He went on to play football – and become student body president – at the University of Florida.
After a stint playing arena football, Bullard was discovered by retired pro-wrestler Steve Keirn in 2009. Impressed by Bullard's size and physical ability, he coached him to learn the tricks of the pro wrestling trade. Bullard took the name “Titus O'Neil” and has performed in the WWE since 2010.
Keirn believes Bullard's difficult upbringing helped fuel his success. “I think a lot of it is where he came from,” the one-time tag team champion told the Tampa Bay Times. “He treats everyone with respect, which is important in this business.” Bullard agrees that his humble origins taught him not to take anything for granted.
It also filled him with the desire to give back. He has joined his church in distributing toys to hundreds of underprivileged children each year and taken part in another program to give the city's considerable elderly population things like clothing and books.
Last month, he and fellow wrestlers Roman Reigns and Alberto del Rio were tapped by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to star in a new PSA for the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse.
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President Obama, who has been outspoken about the impact his own absentee father had on his life, has emphasized the importance of parental involvement during his administration.
“Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers,” the Ad Council, another partner in the PSAs, notes.
The video shows Bullard playing cards with his two boys, Thaddeus Jr. (“TJ”) and Titus Bullard, who are 7 and 10.
“I like every aspect of being a father,” he admits.
“I feel like I was placed on this earth to do great things,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “A lot of people are placed on this earth to do great things. Whether they choose to do it as a serious calling or not, it's all up to them.”
His mother, Daria Bullard, said her son's life more than repaid her struggle as a preteen mother.
“He didn't come into this world under the best of circumstances, but he turned out to be a blessing,” she said.