Whether he’s slogging through the science courses he’ll need to become a physical therapist or bringing books to underserved students in his adopted hometown, David Bruton Jr. ’09 has one thing on his mind.
“It doesn’t matter what it is, I just love giving back,” says Bruton, a former Irish safety who went on to play for the Denver Broncos and the Washington Redskins.
Bruton has now seized the opportunity to make giving back his full-time job. He retired from the NFL in 2017 after suffering six concussions in eight seasons. Having worked with physical therapists to recover from sports-related injuries since childhood, he’s developed an appreciation for the profession and the opportunity it offers to make a difference.
At the same time, he looks forward to continuing the sorts of charitable endeavors he was known for during his NFL career—most notably by empowering low-income children to become strong readers through Bruton’s Books.
“Whether it’s through my foundation, whether it’s through school now, whether it’s eventually through physical therapy—I just love helping other people to get better, no matter what it is,” he says.
Helping Athletes Recover
Bruton has long admired the work physical therapists do. Since his earliest playing days, they’ve helped him bounce back from injuries.
“When I was in middle school, early high school, I built relationships with my physical therapists, and they definitely helped me through a lot of issues, whether it’s hip flexor issues, knee issues, back issues —they were just able to do so much for me in such little time, and I just know that I can make that difference as well,” he says. “It’s just something that’s always stuck with me. I also think my career definitely geared me toward wanting to focus on the vestibular aspect of physical therapy—so dealing with concussions and vertigo and things of that nature—something that definitely played a huge role in my retiring.”
Now, Bruton is working toward his own career in physical therapy. A political science and sociology major during his undergraduate days at Notre Dame, he’s now in his final semester of science pre-requisites at University of Colorado Denver. He then plans to complete a three-year physical therapy program that will require two years of classes and a year of clinicals.
Once he completes his training, Bruton plans to serve a diverse range of everyday athletes in Colorado, where active lifestyles are the norm.
“I’m talking about every athlete, whether it’s someone who plays high school football to a snowboarder to somebody who hikes fourteeners on the regular,” Bruton says. “It’s just a very active state and putting our bodies through that beating, that wear and tear, is eventually going to lead to complications. No matter what type of athlete you are, you’re going to run into some type of issue.”
Building Opportunity Through Literacy
As he works toward a new career in physical therapy, Bruton also remains active with Bruton’s Books, his initiative that teaches low-income children in grades K-3 to become strong readers through tutoring and by providing books to underfunded schools, libraries, and classrooms. Bruton’s Books has a presence in Denver, where Bruton now lives, and in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
“The mission is not solely to put a book in their hand,” Bruton says. “It’s also to educate them so they’re reading proficiently and able to comprehend what they’re reading. I’m taking the approach that it doesn’t matter what they read—it could be a comic book, it could be a textbook, it could be Junie B. Jones, it could be whatever—as long as they’re able to read and comprehend it, then we’re reaching our goal.”
Bruton sees reading as a way to help underprivileged children set the table for success in life.
“We want to foster that love for reading, because again, there are studies especially with Mile High United Way, that show the number of kids who not reading proficiently by third grade approximately equals the number of inmates in prison in Colorado,” he says. “So using that data, we are trying to set the kids up for success by getting them to read proficiently at grade level by third grade. I think our focus has been geared to K-3 because that’s when your brain seems to be the most moldable. You’re able to learn a lot faster, and you’re still learning those basic skill you’ll need for educational survival and career longevity.”
Bruton loves seeing students overcome early their early school struggles to become strong readers, building skills and confidence that will serve them well in the years ahead.
“It’s just rewarding to see a kid who, when you start at the beginning of the school year, is reading at a first-grade proficiency level and he’s in third grade—and then that student is reading a fifth-grade book by the end of the year,” he says. “You’re making leaps and bounds within that school year. Having somebody who cares, who’s pushing them, that’s going to breed success.
“It’s rewarding in a sense where I want to keep going, I want to keep making a difference. And I know the fellow students that I’ve worked with, the other individuals I’ve partnered with, we all feel that reward, and the reward is driving us to keep doing more, to keep bringing more kids and putting our arms around more kids, and to keep feeding them the tools for success. That’s our motivating factor.”