Thad Bullard is a good guy. A really good guy.
Not just inside a wrestling ring, where he is better known as WWE superstar Titus O’Neil, but also outside the ring where he has proven that there is no such thing as a “bad kid,” and that love and encouragement can conquer all.
Bullard is an amazing rags-to-riches story that transcends a successful college football career at the University of Florida and his current status as a World Wrestling Entertainment sports entertainer. He’s a true example of a servant leader who invests considerable time and money to improve the lives of children around the world.
“I am a man who proves that how you are labeled as a child does not have to define who you will become as an adult,” says Bullard. “I am a man who lives every day as proof that there is no such thing as a bad kid.”
Thus, the title of his new book, “There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid,” or as the subtitle suggests, “How I Went from Stereotype to Prototype.”
The 230-page book, co-written with Paul Guzzo, chronicles Bullard’s journey from his turbulent childhood years to his success as a world-class athlete, entertainer and philanthropist.
It’s a powerful, riveting story of how the 42-year-old Bullard overcame dire conditions as a child, and nearly didn’t even make it that far. He tells the story of a mother who was raped at the age of 11, pressured by her family to have an abortion, but refused and at the age of 12 chose to give him birth.
Growing up in poverty in a South Florida project surrounded by drugs and violence, without a male role model and with a young mother, Bullard’s future looked bleak. He underperformed in school and was bullied by classmates.
To make matters worse, Bullard was told many times throughout his childhood that he’d be dead or in jail by the time he was 16 years old.
But children can be lifted out of their circumstances, Bullard writes, and he’s a prime example. His change came with the love and life-altering guidance of officials at the Florida Sheriff's Boys Ranch.
When a trusted mentor at the Ranch told the youngster that “there’s no such thing as a bad kid,” it resonated and changed the way he viewed the world. It was after those impactful words, he says, that he began to believe in himself and in his ability to change his story.
“He told me he loved me and that he believed in me,” Bullard, then only 12, says of the life-changing experience. “Nobody had ever said those two things together. People had said they loved me, but they’d turn right around and cuss me out or abuse me in one way or the other. But to say that he believed in me … nobody had ever told me that. Everybody told me I was too dumb to go to college. I wasn’t going to make it out of high school. I was too uncoordinated to play sports. In one sitting he redirected everything that had ever been told to me to that point.”
The rest is history as Bullard would realize his value, his potential and his greatness.
Paying it forward
A Parade All-American in high school and former standout football player at the University of Florida, vice president of his student body, a 10-year veteran of WWE, and a father of two boys (he won the 2015 MEGA Celebrity Dad of the Year Award), Bullard has accomplished everything he was told he would never do.
The 6-6, 270-pound powerhouse went on to win two national titles as a defensive lineman at Florida, where legendary coach Steve Spurrier unretired his No. 11 jersey for Bullard to wear.
One caring person, one simple comment, can change the course of a child’s life, and it has been O’Neil’s mission to pay it forward. Realizing that there was a need to tell his story on a larger scale, he has helped raise millions for charities, secured scholarships for student athletes, and mentored at-risk youth, pouring positivity into their lives.
The former WWE tag-team champion has become a humanitarian role model. Bullard has long been actively involved with WWE’s many community and charity initiatives across the U.S. and around the world, including his work with the Be a STAR anti-bullying initiative in conjunction with the Creative Coalition, the Special Olympics, the Fatherhood.gov campaign, Hire Heroes USA and Susan G. Komen. He’s also branched out on his own, donating his time to charities in his home state of Florida as well as on a national level.
“Titus O’Neil is committed to youth development and does wonderful work to help those from difficult backgrounds believe there are no limits on what they can achieve. His work to help our community is inspiring to everyone,” Spurrier wrote about his former Gator great.
O’Neil, who played four seasons of Arena League Football before embarking on a WWE career, insists “wrestling is what I do for a living, but not who I am.” The fame and fortune are secondary.
“What I do for a living is not who I am for a living. I feel that way pretty much about everything I‘ve ever done. I want to ultimately be the best man of character that I can possibly be. It was men and women of character who helped get me in the position that I’m in. Not just as a WWE superstar, but also as a father, as a mentor, as an educator, as a son.”
“Being in WWE provides me a global platform to impact lives in a positive way, but it doesn’t take a superstar to make a difference,” adds Bullard. “This is the story of how one conversation changed my life, how I transformed a personal tragedy into my own triumph, and how we can all challenge ourselves and others to do a little bit better.”
“Titus is the best example of a person refusing to be a product of bad circumstances,” Dave Bautista (aka WWE superstar Batista), one of Bullard’s closest friends, writes in his book. “He turned a heartbreaking situation into a lifetime of inspiration. I’m blessed to know him. I’m proud to call him a brother.”
Bullard hopes his remarkable story will provide hope and inspiration to children in similar circumstances and will help guide well-meaning adults in how to pay forward their successes to a generation of disadvantaged children.
A devout Christian, he says his purpose on Earth is to change as many lives as he possibly can, because his life was changed by other people. Just as he spent much of his youth supported by charitable individuals and organizations, he has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of those less fortunate.
Actions, not circumstances, determine one’s success in life, says Bullard, and everyone possesses the power to create their own destiny.
“People invested in me when they had nothing to gain in return. Every day is an opportunity to return the favor for others,” he says.
“There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid” delivers a compelling message about the power of compassion and the human spirit. It’s a story well worth reading.
The book is published by ECW Press in partnership with WWE.
Old School Wrestling
Old School Championship Wrestling will return to the Hanahan Rec Center on Dec. 8 with its final show of the year.
Featured will be former WWE stars Gangrel and Kevin Thorn, along with former TNA performer Caleb Konley, Cheerleader Melissa from Lucha Underground and the popular John Skyler. Also scheduled for the show are Team Fearless, Tracer X, Logan Creed, Brady Pierce, Drew Adler, Zane Riley, Francisco Ciatso, Stormie Lee, The Washington Bullets, Brandon Paradise, Kevin Phoenix, Savannah Evans, Josh Powers, Anna Diaz, Eric Darkstorm, Austin Jordan, Chris Valo and more.
Bell time is 5 p.m. Doors open at 4:30.
Adult admission (cash only at the door) is $12; kids (under 12) $7.
Advance discounted tickets are available online at https://oscwliveprowrestlingcaged.simpletix.com/e/49034.
For more information, call 843-743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His newly released book — “Final Bell” — is now available at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com