Any New England Patriots fan can tell you about former linebacker Andre Tippett’s stellar career on the football field. What people may not know is that he’s a tireless ambassador for men’s health, a martial arts expert, and a devoted Jew. This past June Tippett spoke at the annual Men’s Health Summit, held at the Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury. I checked in with this Pro Football Hall of Famer about his work with the center, choosing Judaism, and the connection between his spiritual and physical health.
Tell me about the Whittier Street Men’s Health Summit.
An integral part of Whittier Street Health Center’s Men’s Health Summit is providing a general understanding of men’s health and educating men on the importance of getting screened for diseases for which they may be at risk. Latino and black residents had diabetes hospitalization rates four to five times the rates for Asian and white residents in 2009. It is statistics like that, particularly as an African American man, which make it important to help raise awareness about things that can happen and health issues. Whittier has a patient base which is ethnically and racially diverse and includes significant numbers of individuals from Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, the South End and Greater Boston. They need to know about the more than 40 healthcare programs and services designed to meet the primary health care, behavioral health, and social needs of the community.
You converted to Judaism. What attracted you to the religion, and how do you work on your spiritual health alongside your physical health?
My wife grew up Jewish. As we decided to share a life together, I started to research everything surrounding Judaism because I wanted our household to be of one religion. When you convert, you embody it whole-heartedly. Our kids have been bar/bat mitzvah’ed and we as a family have journeyed to Israel together.
Your spirituality seems to come from several diverse places, including, I understand, both Judaism and the martial arts. How do they complement each other?
Both karate and Judaism provide core values to live by. Judaism teaches learning, service and humanity. The martial arts teach humility. I have been married to Rhonda for 18 years, together for 20 years. You have to constantly work on communication, patience and understanding. Technique takes time to develop, whether it is faith, martial arts, or marriage.
Now, about the martial arts: I understand you are a black belt in karate. What, was being a hall of fame football player not intimidating enough for you?
I have trained in the martial arts for 40-plus years. I believe that karate training naturally increases testosterone. I cannot prove it, but I still feel strong and as quick as when I played football, and I believe that comes through my training. Practicing three times a week helps me maintain mind, body and spirit. I am blessed because of my background in martial arts. After 40 or so years in training, you get more out of the spiritual training. It’s more than kicks and punches; it’s a way of life. Repetition takes on a different meaning for different people, but it comes down to really developing your mind, body and spirit. You can’t have one without the other.