Some Hate Him, But Mel Blount Perseveres

By Ron Cook
Updated: June 20, 2005


Mel Blount

PITTSBURGH — You come around the bend on Route 211 in Buffalo Township, Washington County, and see the gorgeous granite sign that announces the Mel Blount Youth Home to its seemingly idyllic little corner of the world. Then, you see the workers painting over the swastikas and the awful racial slur. You can’t help but think how wonderful it would be if the gutless people who did the unconscionable vandalism would have to spend just 5 minutes in a room with Blount.

Not so they could understand the admirable work being done with troubled boys at the youth home. They are so blinded by their hate that they probably wouldn’t see it, anyway.

No, the fun would come in watching them squirm in the great man’s presence.

Just say Blount, even at 57 and more than two decades removed from his Hall of Fame career with the Steelers, could teach them something about respect.

And it wouldn’t hurt for them to hear Blount deliver the same message that he did the other day as he drove his Dodge Ram 3500 truck around his 300-acre farm.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Blount said, firmly. “I’m dug in here. I live here. I have my family here …

“If anything, this just makes me more determined to keep going, to keep doing what we’re doing, to keep trying to help kids.”

Sadly, Blount has become almost immune to the racially inspired hate crimes. He has been a frequent target since plans for his youth home were announced in 1989. Mostly, he has received overwhelming support from across the region, which explains how he can employ 29 people and run an operation with a yearly budget of $1.6 million. But there are a few people who are offended by a physically imposing black man bringing troubled kids into the neighborhood.

“I’ll never forget the guy standing up at the [zoning] hearing and saying how his property value would go down if we opened up here,” Blount said. “That hurt more than anything. I was always taught to beautify where you live. Take pride in it.”

So Blount, his staff and his boys dutifully pick up the trash, bottles and nails that are often dumped on his property line by passersby. On this day last week, he chastised some of the boys for failing to notice a loose piece of paper near the basketball court. Later, he would supervise a group doing a massive cleanup in preparation for the rodeo he will run for 200-300 high school kids on the property Aug. 27-28. In the middle of those whacking weeds under the hot sun was Blount’s son, Akil, 10, who, along with his brothers, Jibri, 8, and Khalid, 7, lives in the old farm house with Blount and his wife, TiAnda, just down the hill from the log cabins where the resident boys are housed.

“It’s never too soon to start teaching them about the value of hard work,” Blount said, nodding toward Akil.

Through it all, Blount and his youth home have endured and prospered. He estimated 600 boys — more than a few white, by the way — have passed through, most leaving as better people. “I’d be lying if I said we helped all of them,” Blount said. “But, if you help but one, you’re making a difference.”

There are 19 boys at the home now. They aren’t looking for a second chance as much as they are for someone to care about them, to teach them about discipline and responsibility and accountability, to maybe point them in a positive direction. Blount — respectfully “Mr. Mel” to everyone at the facility — said he ached for the boys when he saw the defaced sign earlier this month.

“We’re trying to teach them about values. I want them to know it’s not about color, it’s about character.”

It’s a fascinating life Blount has chosen, one that many of his former teammates don’t understand. “They ask me why I live way out here. But you know what? This is me,” he said, shrugging.

Blount comes from Vidalia, Ga., which claims the world’s greatest onions and, arguably, football’s all-time best cornerback. Blount was so good during the Super Steelers years that he forced the NFL to change the sport by adding the bump rule to protect wide receivers.

Now, Blount approaches the cutting-horse game with the same passion. He breeds and trains the horses and rides them in competitions. In December, he won $54,000 by finishing in third place on High Brow Doll at the 2004 National Cutting Horse Association World Championship Futurity in Fort Worth, Texas.

After watching Blount work Smokin Lil Ricochet — a prized 2-year-old colt he’s training for the 2006 Futurity — it’s easy to understand why he remains in such fabulous shape. When he takes off his white cowboy hat, sweat pours from his shaved head. If not for the gray specks in his beard, you would think he could still put on the pads and manhandle Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.

“Animals are so smart,” Blount said. “They’re like kids. If you work with them, they’ll turn out fine. But, if you don’t spend time with them, they’ll develop their own bad habits.”

The horses are an important tool at the youth home.

“We have the boys work with them,” Blount said. “I’m a firm believer it teaches them to respect life.”

It’s just too bad the hate-crime people can’t learn that same lesson.

“I’m not discouraged,” Blount said. “It’s like Chuck Noll always used to preach to us. You can’t lose your focus …

“I know the bad people are out there. You can’t take anything for granted with them. But, at the same time, no one around here is going to be backing down, either.”…..*