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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Punter, author, survivor
By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
Published March 6, 2008
Josh Bidwell, with sons Brady, left, and Aaron, wrote a book about his battle with testicular cancer. His foundation also raises money for a cancer facility near his hometown in Oregon.
For months, each time you walked through the locker room at One Buc Place, you were bound to find punter Josh Bidwell spending every spare millisecond staring into a laptop. Maybe he was checking his portfolio or perhaps catching up on backlogged e-mail. At least that's what his teammates thought.
Turns out, he was literally telling his life's story. Having survived a difficult bout with testicular cancer early in his career, the Tampa Bay punter has shared his story and his Christianity in his new book, When It's Fourth and Long. Bidwell figures his book can help spread awareness of the disease, and hopefully save others' lives. He recently spoke from his offseason home in Oregon about the book.
How did you go from NFL punter to author?
I was an English major in college and it had been something that had been on my mind. But it just seemed like a distant dream. Then a publisher heard me speak at a church in Oregon and asked if we could set up a meeting. He asked me if I had ever thought about it and I had - not as a moneymaker, but just to inspire people. He thought I could do it. We set up a few more meetings and did an outline and then you just saw me typing away.
That's pretty ambitious to undertake something like that while playing football. Why do it?
I have had just so many people invest in my life to get me to where I'm at. I committed my life a long time ago to going out and speaking to people to inspire them. Writing a book enables me to do that even when I'm not there. Having that opportunity to write the book was a lot of fun, too. We talked about whether I should have it ghost written, and everyone kind of agreed that my passion and sincerity would come out in a much stronger way if I were to write it myself. I just needed the encouragement.
What's been the reaction?
I've gotten amazing feedback from people all over the country. The first e-mail I got just made it all worth it. The response has been twofold. The first group is people who are going through cancer. When they read your story and see that you went through it and beat it, they know they can beat it. That just warms my heart to know that somebody is fighting a deadly disease and, somehow, my story was able to inspire them to have a little more energy to fight it. Secondly, I get a lot of people who are just inspired in their lives and in their faith. We all need that.
What about your teammates?
The funny thing is during training camp, when we had a day off, Ronde Barber, Matt Bryant and I went out and played golf. I had mentioned something to Ronde about my cancer and he said, "I didn't know you had cancer." He said, "Are you kidding me?" He's one of my favorite players on the team and in the league, but he went out the next day and bought the book and finished it in two or three days. That just showed me a lot about his character. I've heard from a few people (in the organization) who have read it. I would go out and buy everybody on the team a copy, but I need the royalties! But Ronde did say he was going to buy a copy for everyone. He still hasn't. I'm going to hold him to that.
You've had some success stories, right?
Yes. What I do in the offseason is I go to schools and teach health classes for a day on testicular cancer. The girls go to another room where they talk about breast cancer and I'll talk to the guys. It gives the kids something to be aware of because 15 to 35 is the age range. They did a short story on this out here on the local TV news one night. Well, there were two guys in town who saw the story and recognized the symptoms that I was describing. They both went and got diagnosed the next day. One of them was pretty advanced and was able to beat it and live. I just thought, "Man, are you kidding me?" Hopefully the book will help some others, too. Every day you wait, you're just rolling the dice.
You've also started a foundation back home. What is its objective?
In Roseburg, near my hometown, we have a new cancer facility that's a nonprofit. They write off $200,000 to $300,000 a year of treatment for people who can't afford it. So, we're raising money for it, and we're also raising money for high school ministries in town.
Roseburg, Ore., huh?
Yep. But you'd never guess this: Did you know Troy Palomalu and I grew up together near there? We grew up in a place called Ten Mile, Ore., which only has about 200 people. It's out in the middle of nowhere. He lived there with his uncle. His family lived in Los Angeles and they decided they wanted to keep him away from the L.A. scene, so they sent him up here with his uncle, and the rest is history.