Despite his many accolades as a linebacker for the Buffalo Bills and a standout career including five Pro Bowl selections, Cornelius Bennett will tell you instead that football enabled him to find his real life’s passion after his playing days were over.
“I get great satisfaction out of helping other people, so charity is something that I truly feel is my calling,” Bennett said. “I was so blessed financially playing football that now I have the time to do charity stuff and that’s what I feel my true passion is.”
Through a charity golf event he hosts every year, Bennett raises money for a children’s center in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, as well as various Ronald McDonald Houses across the Southern U.S. Between that annual tournament, volunteering with his wife in their South Florida community, and speaking at events around the country, he's made his passion a habit.
He’s also made it his career. Bennett serves as the Chairman of the NFLPA’s Former Players Board of Directors, where he helps address the issues and concerns of fellow NFL alumni.
“It’s been a great reward for me helping former players,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it, especially when guys come up and say, ‘thanks for what you’re doing for us former players,’ because some of them feel like they’ve been forgotten about. I’m making sure they’re not forgotten.”
As the Chairman of the Board, he also has a seat on the Executive Committee with active players and played a large role in the recent CBA negotiations. He says the experience was tedious, but taught him much about the action happening behind-the-scenes that impacts current and former players. In addition, he served on the alliance between the NFL and NFLPA seeking to improve the care and quality of life of former players.
“I kind of fell into my NFLPA role but I’ve always been one to help guys when needed,” Bennett said. “I gave out financial advice even when I was a player. I’ve always been sort of a locker room lawyer. Not so much in Buffalo though, because we had Kent Hull. I always paid attention to his actions and followed suit when I left Buffalo. I took pride in myself to be that person like Kent in the other locker rooms I played in.”
Much of his current and former jobs intersecting, he says he can’t help but think of the memories of his nine years in Buffalo often, and is frequently recognized for those Super Bowl years near his Hollywood, Florida home where he and wife Kimberly live with their three kids.
“People talk about those great years that we had in Buffalo and most people wish that we won,” he said. “But living in Florida now I get a lot of people saying ‘we hated you guys, you kept us from going to the Super Bowl!’ Of course, I wish we could have won the Super Bowl, but it didn’t happen and I have some great memories of those days.”
Bennett added on the John Murphy Show last week that there’s no group of guys he enjoyed playing with more than those on the Bills of the early '90s.
“Once or twice a year I get a chance to be around some of the guys from those Super Bowl teams – Jim, Thurman, Bruce, Darryl, Steve, Kent, before he passed away – and we get a sit down and reminisce and remember the good times and the bad times," he said. "I don’t think any of us would go back and try to change anything because of the memories that we formed. What we did, I didn’t think it would ever happen in my lifetime.”