LAFAYETTE -- During eight years as a defensive end with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, from 1986 to 1993, Tim Green achieved his dreams with brute, brawny force.
Twenty years later, after becoming a lawyer, National Public Radio commentator, television show host and best-selling author, Green is bagging success with kindness.
At the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Foundation's second "Authors & Athlete"s event on Nov. 20, more than 70 people packed into a conference room to hear Green's stories about pro football and his life as an author, husband and father of five children.
"The thing I'm most proud of is my kids' character," he said. "Generosity, tolerance, and forgiveness -- that's what counts. Someone brought you here and loves you with all your heart. If you love them back, that's success."
Not exactly the words one might expect from a man with appreciable biceps and a reputation for tackling 250-pound opponents. But moments later, Green was gloating over the glories of sacking Joe Montana, Brett Favre and other All-Pro quarterbacks.
"Why did I play football? I liked knocking people down. Seriously. But I knew I couldn't do that -- until I found football, where I was supposed to do it and people cheered."
The audience had also come to hear Green read and talk about his popular children's chapter books. "Perfect Season," his newest release, is an almost true-to-life story about a boy, Troy, whose dreams have backfired. His wayward father has wiped out Troy's financial jackpot, and accusations of improprieties threaten the winning team's championship possibilities. The plot is loosely based on Green's real-life "too weird to put in a kid's book" experience coaching a high school team. Several of the characters are modeled after his children.
"I told my son Troy the book was going to be just like them -- the good and the bad. My son said, "What bad?" So I guess it's part fact and part fiction."
Green has written 28 books, and said he always wanted to be a writer. Growing up with limited resources, the library was a must-stop.
"When you grow up in an (affluent) area like this one, it's hard to realize there are kids who feel lucky just to have sneakers," he said. "At a library, you don't have to buy books -- you can borrow and become a great reader."
Green is often two steps shy of a cliché, telling the young kids that reading is "weight lifting for your heart" and that the "tough girls" in his books are important for "guy readers" to experience. About writing, he offered his playbook: "Make it short, make it pop, have action, leave the reader asking questions, wanting to turn pages. A good book just goes and goes."
In an earlier interview, Green said he's always been a hard worker. Plugging through law school and writing his first book while still in the NFL required determination. Motivated by realistic thinking -- being a professional athlete requires luck as much as physical skill, he insists -- Green always understood the importance of education.
"Pro athletes and writing are all about being in the right place at the right time. That's scary," he said. "I know much better writers than I am who are not published. But you don't need luck in school."
He believes the latest changes in training for and playing pro football are necessary. "We used to blow the stuffing out of each other every day. Get this: they won't ever eradicate the impacts. The violence is the skill and drama of the game. But the three-point stance can go away, and the game can be more about moving the ball through the air."
A more thoughtful, less gung-ho persona shows itself when he's not in the public eye. One-on-one, he speaks quietly of his mission (to get kids reading) and said he's learned the most from goals he didn't reach -- not winning the Lombardi trophy (for the best college football lineman or linebacker), never winning a Super Bowl, hosting a television show that "didn't catch fire." Defeat, he said, is an invitation to persevere.
Green uses his speaking fees to buy books for kids in underserved communities. He's also pulled off some under-the-radar plays, like funding a clinic in Sudan and a school in Columbia. Compassion drives his play calls now: "I grew up in a world where winning and money were things to strive for. Then I looked at the people around me and thought, who would you die for? If there's a person in your life who you feel that way about -- and who feels that way about you -- then you have success."