Former Falcon gets students exercising their minds, too

Former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Tim Green, center, flanked by current players Joey Mbu, left, and Vic Beasley Jr., reads to students at Parkside Elementary in Atlanta. MARLON A. WALKER/

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Former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Tim Green, center, flanked by current players Joey Mbu, left, and Vic Beasley Jr., reads to students at Parkside Elementary in Atlanta. MARLON A. WALKER/

Each time former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Tim Green finished a chapter, he asked the 75 or so students assembled in the library at Parkside Elementary School in Atlanta earlier this month if he should stop. Each time, they egged him on, pleading for him to continue.

He was reading "Kid Owner," the 16th of his childrens books, all published by Harper Collins. Afterward, the students would be ushered down the hall for an hour of rope climbing, football throwing, running and other activities.

As part of its Play 60 program, launched in 2007, the NFL has advocated for kids to have 60 minutes of physical activity a day to keep their bodies healthy and in shape. Green takes that a step further, with 20 minutes of reading to exercise the brain as well.

“I’m not curing cancer or creating world peace,” he said, “but it’s my own way of giving back.

“Teachers have been saying for years that reading for about 20 minutes a day enhances a child’s skills,” Green said. “The idea that all you have to do is play for 60 minutes a day to be physically fit, that’s something the NFL is promoting across the country. Kids can also read 20 minutes a day and make themselves stronger mentally and build their character.”

Writing books was a suitable part of the retirement plan for Green, now 52 and living in New York. He’s also a licensed attorney.

Green’s first book, “Ruffians,” came out around the time he retired from the league in 1993. He wrote 16 adult books before being approached by Harper Collins about writing for a younger audience. He never knew the move would be life-changing.

“The difference? I love the audience,” he said after reading to the Parkside students. “I love kids getting excited about reading.”

Soon, an idea was formed to combine the NFL’s Play 60 program with a reading component. A world-class athlete himself, Green said it was a natural fit to incorporate exercise into his reading sessions at schools across the country. And many states have begun programs pushing children to read 20 minutes a day outside of the classroom, which has been proven to improve literacy, listening skills and academic performance.

“My mission,” he said, “really is to get them to read.”

The NFL has committed more than $325 million to Play 60. To date, more than 73,000 schools have had programs created for more than 38 million students.

“We are thrilled former NFL players like Tim Green are positively impacting our youngest fans by encouraging kids to stay active and live healthy lifestyles,” an NFL spokeswoman said via email.

During his Atlanta trip, Green also read and gave out books at other schools. Some of his trips are funded by the schools he visits. From those earnings, he buys books for those at less-fortunate stops.

“That’s why I do it,” Green said after passing out copies of a book to the students at Parkside. “I love seeing that reaction to know that kids are enjoying my stories. I do well enough to where I don’t have to ask them to buy books.”

NFL Play 60 program: Things to know

According to the NFL, its program encouraging physical activity for students has changed this year in several ways, including:

• The NFL and American Heart Association released an updated version of a free NFL PLAY 60 app, where users can virtually race through “Super Bowl 50.”

• Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan will appear in videos leading middle-school students through workouts as part of the NFL PLAY 60 Challenge, designed to inspire activity.

• The NFL and Shriners Hospitals for Children teamed to create a free NFL PLAY 60 All-Ability Guide, which includes activities to help children with physicaldisabillities to live active lives.

• This fall, the NFL and the National Dairy Council launched Fuel Up to Play 60 en español, extending resources to Spanish-speaking communities.