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Anthony Barr: Heart & SKOL


Anthony Barr eases into a smile just seconds after walking through the door.

He sees a young child across the room, points in recognition and naturally breaks into a laugh.

Just a couple of buddies reuniting.

Barr is comfortable in the room, surrounded by familiar faces and holiday music. A simple card table supports stacks of steaming pizza boxes, and a group of youngsters talk excitedly about the pile of still-wrapped Christmas gifts nearby.

Barr is a regular visitor to Jeremiah Program, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that works to end the poverty cycle two generations at a time. The program offers safe housing and a supportive community for determined single mothers to pursue a college degree while providing quality early childhood education.

Jeremiah Program lives out the mission of the Raise the Barr Foundation, started by the Vikings linebacker who was raised by a single mother.

The annual holiday party hosted by Barr is an event heavily anticipated by him and the families alike.

"They're basically a big family living under the same roof," Barr said. "It's important that they have that experience and that they feel loved and appreciated, so we just bring a little Christmas spirit during the holidays."


On this night, cameras will capture images of the festivities. But Barr regularly volunteers in the childcare center during visits that go unnoticed and unpublicized – and that's exactly the way he wants it.

"I kind of see myself in these kids, when I was, not too long ago, in the same position. And I see my mom in the moms there, working hard to better themselves," Barr said. "It's a natural fit. I grew up with a big family, a lot of kids around, so I know how to interact in that arena."

Born in Indiana and raised in California, Barr said spending time with the mothers and their children "kind of fills the gap" when he lives so far from his own family.

The Vikings drafted Barr No. 9 overall in 2014; he's since started 84 games and been to four Pro Bowls.

It would be easy for the linebacker to make a donation and walk away. But that's simply not enough for him.

"Writing a check, that's great and all, but it's really about the time," he explained. "That's invaluable. You can't get that back. You can't replicate that in a dollar amount.

"Being there physically and kind of setting that example, showing up and giving your time, hopefully that will impact the kids and they'll remember it going forward," he added.

Vikings LB Anthony Barr hosted his foundation's Raise the Barr holiday party where he gave gifts to 39 moms and 50 kids. He also provided a meal of pizza, treats, footballs and Build-A-Bears.

'Where my heart is'

Nine months ago, Barr stood at a podium at Twin Cities Orthopedics Center, having recently signed an extension with the Vikings.

He had come close to leaving, even going so far to tell his agent he planned to join the Jets. He knew immediately, however, that he had made the wrong decision and proceeded to leave money on the table in favor of staying in Minnesota.

"This is where my heart was," he told reporters that day. "This is where it's always been; this is where it will be."

Anyone who knows Barr's heart knows it's a big one – and that he truly cares about community.

Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks' friendship with Barr dates back to their days together at UCLA, and the two share a common passion for giving back. While Kendricks focuses on combatting food insecurity in the Twin Cities, he admires the work of Raise the Barr Foundation.

"We like a lot of the same things, we're obviously good friends, so I just feel like it's natural that we both care about other people and want to use our platforms to do the most," Kendricks said. 'The stuff he does with single moms is awesome, because I can relate a little bit. They're really doing things. They're really making an impact – making a difference."

Adia Singh has been a resident at Jeremiah Program, along with her children, for three years while attending nursing school. She spoke about the impact Barr has made, saying that children in the program "think Anthony Barr is their best friend."


Given the opportunity to express her own sentiments to Barr, Singh said, "Thank you for being humble enough to remember where you came from."

What does it mean to hear about the difference you're making?

For Barr, it all boils down to one thing: people from all backgrounds and experiences need – and deserve – to be loved and respected.

"That doesn't change when you make x-amount of dollars. That doesn't change when you don't have some things," he said. "It's about being human, it's about being a good person, it's about doing the right thing and doing it consistently."

He added: "Whether the camera's on or not, I try to be myself and be the same person every day."

Home sweet home

Barr carries that same mentality at work.

This season marks his sixth with the Vikings; he's quite aware that it almost became his first with a new team.

"I'm thankful every day," Barr said of his decision to stay put. "I feel comfortable being here, I feel comfortable being myself, and I think that's important."

That comfort level has shown up on the field.

Barr has started all 13 games he's played this season, totaling 90 tackles (coaches' tally), 1.5 sacks, one interception, seven passes broken up, six tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

And although he's been relaying play calls for the defense since his rookie season, Barr this year has done more talking outside the white lines.

"I feel great about where I am as a football player and what I've been able to do this year," Barr said. "I've definitely accepted the role of being more vocal and getting guys lined up, chastising guys when it's necessary and then patting them on the back when they deserve it.

"I've found that balance, and I think sometimes people look to me when things aren't going well," he continued. "It's always important to keep it cool. Things are going to happen, but we'll respond in the right way, and we've done so. We've had some adversity this year, but every time we've been hit with it, we've always bounced back."

Vikings safety Harrison Smith called Barr a "really dependable" presence in the defensive meeting room.

"We always know he's going to get his room right, get the defense right. He's always the one making the calls to the guys. He knows what we need," Smith said.

Kendricks said Barr has poured "blood, sweat and tears" into the organization.

"I feel like when the young guys come in, they just have to respect it, whether it's off the field, on the field," Kendricks said. "They know what he's capable of on the field but also what he brings to the table as a leader."

When Mike Zimmer took the Vikings helm in 2014, he made Barr his first-ever draft selection as a head coach. Since then, the defensive group has stayed largely intact. From reading each other's cues and tendencies on the field to Friday meals together in the locker room and summer trips to Tokyo, the players have built a bond that's unbreakable.

That brotherhood, Barr said, is "at least half, if not more" of the reason he chose in March to sign an extension with Minnesota.

The jerseys may have been greener in New York, but Barr knew the grass likely wouldn't be.

"If I had a chance to come back here and run with these guys again, it was going to happen. Fortunately, I was able to," he said.

When Barr heard his name called on draft night nearly six years ago, he didn't have a choice where he played. Now, he does.

Taking ownership of his career and making the decision he knows was right has given Barr a different perspective and new type of passion on game day.

It makes it easier to pour his heart and SKOL into his craft.

"It's easy to come to work every day, and it's easy to go out on the field and play for the guys next to you," Barr said. "I don't play for myself; I do it for so many other people and this organization, really. So, it's been such a blessing to do what I love to do with people that I love doing it with."

Monday's Border Battle is a big game on a big stage. But win or lose, Barr won't be heading out West for the holidays, as he and the team turn the page to Week 17 and the Vikings final regular-season game.

What Barr has come to realize, however, is that Minnesota – from the Jeremiah Program youth, to the fans who stop him at the mall to say "thank you" for his work on the field, to his Vikings teammates – has become a family all of its own.

"Even within the team and the community, people are always asking around the holidays, 'What are you doing for Thanksgiving? What are you doing for Christmas? Do you have somewhere to go? Want to come to my house?' I've even had strangers even ask me that," Barr said. "It just feels right. It's really a loving, caring environment.

"It's kind of what I was raised in," he added with a smile. "It feels like home."