‘I have a key card’: Shaq promises active role in Henry sheriff’s office

Shaquille O’Neal speaks Friday about being named the Director of Community Relations by the Henry County Sheriff's Office.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Shaquille O’Neal speaks Friday about being named the Director of Community Relations by the Henry County Sheriff's Office.

In his long, varied and well-publicized career in the spotlight, Shaquille O’Neal has consistently supported and embraced law enforcement. Now, as a resident of Henry County, he is again aligning himself with the local sheriff’s office.

But his role as Director of Community Relations will be much more than ceremonial, the basketball Hall of Famer said Friday.

“My job title includes attending weekly meetings and I’ll definitely be there. I have an office right across the street,” O’Neal said from the parking lot of A Friend’s House, a foster home associated with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office. “I have a key card,” he added, holding up his ID badge that all Henry sheriff’s office employees use to access the facilities.

O’Neal’s new position with the sheriff’s office is supported by his foundation and the Pepsi Stronger Together program, a community outreach initiative sponsored by the global soft drink brand. Their first project involved outfitting A Friend’s House with new beds and new TVs, O’Neal said, with more improvements planned.

O’Neal also announced that, through the sheriff’s office, the initiative would next focus on the Haven House, a domestic violence safe house serving women in McDonough.

“My goal is to go in and fix it up real nice,” O’Neal said. “I want to build them a beauty salon, so they can get their hair done and their nails done.”

He also said the sheriff’s office had set up a program to teach trades at the Haven House.

“So they can make a better life for themselves,” O’Neal said.

Shaquille O’Neal, who lives in Henry County, said he'll attend weekly meetings.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The former NBA superstar, now a TV analyst for the Atlanta-based “NBA on TNT,” said he’s lived in Henry County for about five years.

“It’s the first time in my life that I haven’t been living like a spoiled brat,” O’Neal said. “It feels good. I’ve always had a guard gate and all that stuff, but now I’m in the country. My neighbor has a couple of horses, a couple of cows ...”

O’Neal, formerly a star athlete at LSU, said Henry residents have been very hospitable, despite their sports alliances.

“One of my neighbors has this dumb Auburn flag that he flies. Another has a dumb Alabama flag,” he said.

O’Neal and Sheriff Reginald Scandrett shared stories from their respective childhoods when each found themselves in trouble and were given second chances by law enforcement and other authorities.

“I once was a challenged child,” Scandrett said. “And if not for the grace of God, and someone important investing into my life, you would not be seeing your first African American sheriff of Henry County.”

01-22-2021 Henry County Sheriff's Office introduced Shaquille O'Neal as the new Director of Community Relations today. (Tyson Horne/tyson.Horne@ajc.com)

O’Neal said he fell in love with law enforcement when he was taken into custody by his uncles for vandalizing a car as a teenager.

“I was watching the Hulk on TV, and I felt like I was the Hulk,” he said. “So I go outside and see a car, and I rip the mirrors off the doors and rip off the windshield wipers.”

The owner saw him and called the police, leading to a life lesson from his uncles.

“They gave me choices. They treated me like a kid who made a mistake,” O’Neal said. “They gave me another chance.”

Outside the foster home, the theme of positive role models hung heavy thanks to the passing of Hank Aaron, the legendary record- and paradigm-breaking former Atlanta Braves player who died earlier in the day. Both O’Neal and Scandrett said they looked up to the Hall of Famer and offered condolences to his family.

“He was a great man,” O’Neal said. “Very hospitable to me and my condolences go out to his family. You definitely know he contributed a lot. Because of him, guys like me knew what it would take to become great.”

“The barriers that were broken by Hank Aaron — we stand on his shoulders today,” Scandrett said. “There’s no way we could possibly stand at this podium if it wasn’t for people like him.”