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The making of Donovan McNabb

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in Leaders & Managers,Team Building

Retired NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb credits his parents, Wilma and Sam, for instilling in him the ability to lead despite adversity.

As the second overall draft pick in 1999 who went on to play 11 seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles, and a year each for the Washington Red­­skins and Minnesota Vikings, McNabb de­­scribes his parents as disciplinarians.

Donovan McNabb

“They taught us to dress appropriately, shake hands with a firm grip, look people in the eyes,” he says. “My dad wouldn’t let me walk out of the house unless my shirt was tucked in.”

“There was the presumption I was the bad guy,” affirms Sam McNabb, a Navy veteran. “I’m okay with that.”

But when you’re talking about a leader who took his team to five NFC championship games and set records for passing and rushing touchdowns, you know there’s more to the story.

Donovan grew up on Chicago’s South Side, a diverse neighborhood he describes as fun. But after a shooting next door, his parents decided to move. They bought a house about 18 miles south, one of the first black families to arrive. Donovan was 7, his brother 11. Pulling up to their new home, they found the windows smashed, “nigger” spray-painted on the walls and carpets soaked in urine.

“We can’t let anyone pull us away from our goals,” their father told his crying children. “Let’s use this as a steppingstone to overcome. It will make us stronger.”

And it did.

— Adapted from “Great Expectations,” Harry Jaffe, Washingtonian.

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