Celebration of fathers a crusade for Saints player

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Father's Day has a particularly special meaning for New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer. This weekend he'll be at the Tennessee town where he grew up throwing footballs and batting baseballs with his dad, Donny.

His father-focused nonprofit, the Greer Campaign, is hosting a 5K run, concert and march Saturday in Jackson, Tenn., to celebrate fathers and their importance to children.

"We've seen the fallout of fatherlessness in our society," said Greer, ticking off a list of social ills he said stems in part from the diminished presence of fathers: crime, addictions, divorce, teen pregnancy.

"I want people to wake up and see how our world is hungry for strong fathers," he said. "They're needed badly."

Greer, who has four children ages 1 to 9, established The Greer Campaign in 2009 to provide education and support for fathers.

"Families need the direction of a good father," Greer said. "The role of fathers has been so diminished. You see it on TV all the time, the dad who wants to go to the bar instead of going home to his family. It's not a very positive image."

Greer said he knows firsthand how hard raising a child can be, particularly for single dads or fathers with children born outside of marriage. Greer had his first two children in his 20s when he was not married, and he describes the time as one of the most isolating of his life.

"I was so lost," said Greer, now 30. "I didn't have the resources. I was looking for a place where I could go for guidance, but there wasn't one."

He now lives in New Orleans with his wife, Katrina, and their two young sons. The couple shares custody of Greer's two older children with their mother, who lives in Tennessee.

Greer said with the rate of children born to unmarried parents on the rise, and many single-parent households resulting from roughly half of all marriages ending in divorce, fathers are often raising children on their own or with limited time with their children.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2010, there were 1.8 million single fathers who were divorced, never married, separated or widowed.

Some don't have any communication with their children, he said. "It's really sad, and it needs to change," he said.

To help do that, the Greer Campaign offers classes on parental rights and responsibilities, therapy and counseling services, and help with conflict resolution.

On Saturday, fathers who've participated in Greer's program will be celebrated during Jackson Run - a daylong festival that includes a free concert by new dad Jason Castro, a fourth-place finalist on "American Idol" in 2008.

Castro's wife, Mandy, gave birth to their first born, daughter Madeline, last August.

Castro, who is working on a new album due out this fall, said he'll likely perform "Hallelujah" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for the fathers and their families.

He said he's looking forward to performing because he values Greer's cause.

"There's nothing more satisfying than playing for something you believe in," Castro said. "I like what he's doing. It's inspiring to me."

Greer graduated from Jackson's South Side High School and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee, where he was a three-year starter at cornerback for the Volunteers and a track and field standout.

In 2004, the Buffalo Bills of the NFL signed Greer. He was signed by the Saints in 2009, the season they won the Super Bowl. He has not been named as one of the New Orleans defensive players who participated in the hits-for-cash bounty scandal that has rocked the team this year.

Greer said he considers himself fortunate to have had a father who "took an invested interest" in him and his three siblings. Besides playing sports, Greer's father, Donny, taught him how to cook and "to be an individual," Greer said.

"My relationship with my father has made me the man I am today," he said.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)