by Deborah Walden
We too often think of sports and arts as incompatible. Athletes and band kids sat at different tables in our cafeterias in school. Piano players and football players did not take the same classes or go to the same parties in college. Jocks and artists may not seem to have a lot in common. Stereotypes, though, rarely hold up to the teaching moments of adulthood. For example, meet Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas.
The NFL star took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his passion for music education. He is so devoted to his cause that he literally called us back as he was stepping onto a plane to pass along some info about the Nashville Symphony. In 2008, he started the Rob Bironas Fund, a component fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. Through it, Bironas has helped get music instruments to children in need and has sponsored educational programs through the Nashville Symphony. Last year, he won the Arts Education Award from the Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville—perhaps an unexpected laurel for a star athlete. For Bironas, the links between music and football are natural. “They both teach discipline, focus, how to overcome adversity, and how to recover from your mistakes.”
Bironas believes that Nashville is the perfect location to foster arts education: “There are a lot of arts here, not just country music but the full realm.” The kicker was driven to start the Bironas Fund after studying the powerful effects of music education on all areas of academic achievement. “I was reading some of the stats, and I became really motivated to help push this. With sports, I knew I had to have good grades. With music, it’s the same way. It pushes for academic excellence.” The divide between sports and art in our schools inspired Bironas to level the playing field, so to speak. “Athletic funding is always there, but each individual child has their vision of what they want to do.”
The Bironas Fund takes advantage of Music City’s cultural resources to offer Tennessee students a brighter future. “I want to help,” says Bironas, “and at least expose them to music. It carries over to the schoolroom.” The kicker, who normally measures success by his game stats, sees childhood excitement as the payoff for his efforts. “Anytime you help kids and you see smiles, it’s rewarding,” he says. Through the help of community leaders like Bironas, Nashville’s world-class music is making its way into local classrooms, and the barriers between athletics and art are starting to come down. “The two worlds are parallel,” Bironas claims. We agree.