Speaking before a crowd of hundreds in the Rackham Auditorium yesterday, former National Football League star Tiki Barber smiled and asked the crowd, “Do you know what an audible is?”

Although most in the crowd answered with a resounding “yes,” some spectators nervously turned to audience members wearing football jerseys for more clarity.

Barber’s talk, “Character isn’t an Audible: Growth with Integrity,” highlighted the idea that people should have unchanging principles, not call audibles – which are last-second adjustments during a football game.

Barber told the audience to the four principles he said he lives by: being fair, being honest, taking responsibility for oneself and showing respect. He said he’s had to learn the importance of showing respect to different people in his life – coaches, the media and his family.

“You never know when those shoes you step on are connected to that butt you have to kiss,” said Barber, who played his entire 10-year professional career with the New York Giants.

Barber’s speech, part of the University’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium, mixed football imagery and concepts with community service. He used humor while describing his own experiences, which included growing up in a single-parent household, his football career and working in broadcast journalism.

Along the way, Barber said he’s achieved success because of the people around him, and said he wants to return the favor. Barber has teamed up with Michigan alum Stephen Ross, a New York real estate developer and the Ross School of Business’s namesake, to launch an affordable housing venture in his home state of Virginia. Barber eventually plans to branch the plan out to New York.

Barber urged listeners to help young people, saying that communities don’t have as much obligation to children today as they once did. He said he wants to use his influence to provide a service to those around him in need.

“I made a commitment to people,” Barber said. “I enjoy meeting different people and being in front of people, telling my story because it matters. Those around us are what make us.”

The audience chuckled each time Barber made a football reference, especially any comment about Sunday’s Giants’ win, which put his former team in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.

Barber said yesterday was the first time he didn’t have to worry about football on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in more than ten years.

“Usually I’m immersed in football season,” Barber said in an interview after the speech.

Ross School of Business Dean Robert Dolan said he invited Barber to speak not only because of his business connection to Stephen Ross but because of his values.

“It was the way he displayed in his life the commitment to community service and values that I found very interesting, that a professional athlete would find a way to do that,” Dolan said.

The audience included people of all ages, from little kids sporting football jerseys and copies of Barber’s children’s books to graduate students required to attend a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.

The question-and-answer session covered many topics from Michael Vick’s image to whether Barber’s twin brother, Ronde, an NFL cornerback, ever tackled him in a game.

And what about his former team, the Giants, who play in two weeks in the Super Bowl?

“They’re gonna win it,” said Barber, without hesitation.

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