Josh Norman found an inkling of his life's purpose during a church service in his hometown Greenwood, South Carolina.
The young Norman had been given $20 by a friend of his grandfather's. He saved it for a week before deciding to donate it to the church. The moment was an epiphany that stays with him today.
"I was just like, 'Wow,'" he recalled Thursday. "But guess what, it came back forward from that. And that was just one of those things that I've always done. Whatever I did have, I still gave because I think my true purpose in life is to help others and to grow them more so than myself."
Norman has played four games as a member of the Buffalo Bills. He was a starter in two. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has never worn home colors in front of the famed Bills Mafia.
Yet the veteran cornerback has embraced his new home like exactly that: a home. Before he ever played a down of football with the Bills, Norman appeared alongside mayor Byron Brown in June at a press conference announcing police reform initiatives. When the Bills partnered with the City of Buffalo to provide internet to underprivileged families in September, Norman was one of four player representatives who spoke on behalf of their teammates.
Norman partnered with the city once again Tuesday to announce a fund to support small businesses in Western New York. The "Buffalo Blitz Initiative" aims to raise $1 million, beginning with a $25,000 seed donation from the veteran cornerback. Contributions can be made via the website for Norman’s Starz24 Foundation.
Norman attributed his connection to Buffalo to a sense of hospitality not unlike what he experienced in his native South Carolina. He rattled off the reasons he feels compelled to leave his mark in Western New York: the open-arms attitude and giving nature within his neighborhood, the life and excitement he felt when walking into the office of his massage therapist (a small business, he points out), the "perfect" weather in summer and spring.
"Here, I felt like I was at home," Norman said. "I really did."
The philanthropic spirit comes as no to surprise to Norman's teammates. If the Bills were to cater a team dinner, Micah Hyde said, "J-No" would be the one to insist he sets it up.
"That's always J-No," Hyde said. "He wants to be the guy to run everything. But obviously in this type of situation, just coming to the community, coming to Buffalo, that's a good trait to have. He wants to be involved. He wants to be a part of this community, not just live in it however long he's here and then leave and never think about Buffalo again. He wants to be a part of it. That's J-No and that's why we love him."
The actions speak louder considering the less-than-ideal circumstances of Norman's season. Hamstring injuries forced him to miss most of training camp and the first three weeks of the regular season, then sidelines him again from Weeks 7 to 9. He was poised to return against Arizona in Week 10 until a positive COVID-19 test prevented him from traveling.
It has all added up to what Norman admits has been one of the strangest years of his career, and yet he remains grateful. Upon receiving his positive test, he issued a minute-long video thanking fans for their support and directing thoughts to those who have it worse. The following day, he tweeted enthusiastically while the Bills played the Cardinals, including words of support as rookie cornerback Dane Jackson excelled in Norman's place.
It may sound unlikely to those who know Norman solely from the public spats with wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant during his days in Carolina and Washington. Players are rarely their public persona, and Norman's philanthropic record can be chased back throughout his career.
He admits, however, that his attitude through the adversity of 2020 is the byproduct of a personal evolution. He encapsulates his new outlook on life through a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
"You catch me four years ago, five years ago, it probably would have been a different story," Norman said. "But now it's just – I'm so at peace. I truly am.
"… And it's one of those things where I know what my purpose is in life and I know what it is I have to give to others and to people. If I've went through this life and I've had a Hall-of-Fame career and you think of me just in that (sense), then I failed you. If I haven't done something to have a Hall-of-Fame career in my philanthropy, then I don't want to known as anything."
In that sense, his tenure with the Bills is already a success.