Besides his Hall of Fame worthy career, when we think of Jason 0Witten we think of a respected leader and mentor. But how did Jason become that way?
Besides the diehards, not many know that Dallas Cowboys future Hall of Famer Jason Witten came from a home with an abusive father. When he was just 11-years old, his life unknowingly changed for the better after his father left him, his two brothers, and his mother on the side of the road.
It was that moment that forced his mother to move herself and her three boys to Elizabethton, Tennessee, where Jason was coached and mentored by his grandfather, Dave Rider.
Football is in Jason Witten’s DNA. The proof is in his family tree. Rider is Elizabethton’s Tom Landry, and he was already a football icon when a young Jason made the move with his family.
Jason’s childhood taught him how to overcome adversity in life and he translates a lot of the knowledge he’s learned from his grandfather to his teammates. Hearing Jason and his brothers talk about the values his grandfather instilled not only in them, but all his players, it’s no wonder the veteran tight end presents himself the way he does.
And not just values in football, but in all aspects of life. In Jason’s episode of Deep Blue from DallasCowboys.com, the All-Pro goes into detail of how the short 10 minute rides to and from school with Rider and his brothers had a major impact on his life.
Nothing in their discussions was off limits, including negative and personal stuff. Jason stressed that his grandfather always wanted to answer their questions and to always make them feel sure of themselves. Jason’s older brother, Shawn Witten, passionately talked about the small ‘intangibles’ that made a lasting impact on the boys, for example the way Rider talked to their grandmother.
"“He just had an unbelievable knack of taking boys and turning them into men and he did it through the game of football. Didn’t matter what your situation, how much money you had, what your parents did, if you even had parents. He loved you for who you were.” – Jason Witten on the character of his grandfather from Deep Blue: Driven – the Jason Witten Story from DallasCowboys.com."
He preached to them the essential basics of being a man that are sometimes forgotten, like always being selfless, accountable, and humble.
Rider was their constant and was a man of respect. His ways of making respect a priority enabled him to gain the trust of his players, as Jason’s mother explained it in the Deep Blue short film.
"“He earned their respect. He didn’t demand it. He earned it. And he earned their respect by his actions” – Kimberly Witten Barnett on the relationship of Dave Rider with her boys from Deep Blue: Driven – the Jason Witten Story from DallasCowboys.com."
Rider earned respect from all those around him, and for that he was widely loved. You hear that similar tone in the Cowboys organization and around the league about Jason Witten: he earns everyone’s respect.
When Jason speaks around his teammates whether on the field or in the locker room, everyone stops what they’re doing and listens. It’s the undisputed respect he’s earned. Much like when his grandfather used to speak around his players.
Off the field, the former Tennessee Volunteer is a model husband, father and citizen. While giving his hall of fame induction speech, owner Jerry Jones recognized Witten as one of the best people, not just football players, he’s ever met.
If Jason Witten is having an impact on the Dallas Cowboys organization like his grandfather had on him and his brothers, America’s Team will be in good hands for a long time.