September 3, 2007. For most Americans, this day was one of the most adored holidays of the year: Labor Day. A day in which most Americans enjoy a break from the monotony of their jobs in favor of a medley of late summer activities with friends and family.
For one group of Americans, however, getting a break from work is the last thing they would ever want to receive. For football players in the National Football League, this is their infamous “Cut Day”. On this day, every NFL team trims their preseason roster down to 53 players. Most NFL players spend their morning anxiously waiting by their phone, praying they don’t receive one of the devastating phone calls that many of their peers will.
On September 3, 2007, one of those players was Renaldo Wynn. Wynn, a first-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1997 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame, had enjoyed a 10-year career thus far. He spent five seasons playing defensive end for the Jaguars before playing five more seasons with the Washington Redskins, where he would eventually play for Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs.
As Cut Day rolled around, Wynn was filled with anxiety. He had spent over a year recovering from a horrific arm injury in which the sound of his forearm breaking was like that of a gunshot. He was now fully recovered, and he felt that he still had plenty to offer. He was unsure whether the Redskins felt the same way.
As Wynn anxiously sat next to his phone, many of his friends and family were planning on joining him later for a celebration. However, this celebration had nothing to do with Cut Day or even with Labor Day; it was also Wynn’s birthday.
Players know that on Cut Day, most cuts are made by noon. So, if they make it past noon with no phone call, they probably are safe. Wynn watched the time turn to noon. Then 12:01, 12:02, and 12:03, still no phone call. He breathed a halfhearted sigh of relief. He should’ve been ecstatic. Noon had passed, and he was still on the team. However, something in him still felt unsafe.
Sure enough, at 12:04 pm, Wynn received the dreaded phone call; he had been cut by the Washington Redskins. He was to report back to the Redskins facility to turn in his playbook and say one final goodbye to Coach Gibbs and the rest of the staff.
Wynn was filled with anger. All he wanted to do was go to the facility and tell every person there exactly what he thought of their decision. But his wife, LaTanya, despite feeling much of the same hurt Renaldo was feeling, told him plainly that was not what he was going to do. Instead, she told him that before he did anything else, they were going to pray together.
After their prayer, Wynn gathered himself and went to the Redskins facility. There, instead of saying words that would have likely permanently ruined his relationship with everyone in the organization, Wynn thanked the Redskins for the opportunity. He then heard Gibbs say something that has stuck with him in the 12 years since: he is more than a football player. Life is more than just football.
Wynn went on to play the next two seasons with the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants before returning for one more brief stint with the Redskins in 2009. As Wynn’s football career came to a close, Gibbs’ words had a lasting impact.
Many NFL players center their entire lives around football. And when the game is taken away from them, they feel lost despite having over half of their lives left to live. After Wynn was done with football, he chose to try and find a purpose for the rest of his life.
In 2012, that purpose revealed itself. Joe Gibbs, the same man that had fired Wynn five years earlier, offered him a job. Gibbs had returned to join his family running their NASCAR organization, but this job was not to drive racecars. Gibbs had started a ministry in 2009 called Game Plan for Life, and he wanted Wynn to oversee it.
Had Wynn voiced his frustrations to Gibbs on Cut Day, it is possible he would not have been chosen. Gibbs had always admired Wynn’s leadership, character, toughness, and faith. He knew Wynn was exactly who the ministry needed in charge.
The ministry began with Gibbs traveling to a series of outreach events and speaking about his book of the same title. The message of both the book and the ministry was using football as a way to explain humanity’s need for a relationship with God. As the ministry expanded, Gibbs needed someone to run point on the organization and execution of the outreach full-time.
Keeping with the football theme, Gibbs wanted someone who had a football background and could relate well to others. Wynn was the perfect fit.
“He meets people easily,” Gibbs said when asked about why he chose Wynn for the job.
“He has a great heart for the Lord… he is also a great speaker and can communicate salvation to people.”
The ministry expanded from just the typical outreach breakfasts to assemblies in middle and high schools along with prison visits. Wynn was a key figure through all of it.
Though he was not a NASCAR fan for most of his life, once Wynn accompanied Gibbs to his first race, he was quickly hooked. The sound and feel of the engines as they come around the turns and down the straightaways is a thrill he came to adore. He loves watching the races in person and continued to attend numerous races during his time with the ministry.
Even though he does not work directly for Joe Gibbs Racing, Wynn still has an office there; two doors down from Gibbs'. His impact during his time there has not just been felt by those that interact with the ministry; he has impacted many Joe Gibbs Racing employees.
Lyndsey Conner and Jenni Murphy both work for the Marketing department at Joe Gibbs Racing. Though their positions do not overlap with Wynn's at all, they feel that they know him well. Afterall, their offices are literally right across the hall from his.
"We can go to his office whenever he's here and talk to him about anything," said Murphy. "He always listens and knows exactly what to say."
"He has helped us both through some really hard times," said Conner. "And he is an incredible storyteller."
Through every corner of Joe Gibbs Racing, numerous people have been affected by Wynn. He has an uncanny talent for putting smiles on faces. Over his time, he has been an almost constant joyful presence for the racing team.
"He's like a big teddy bear," stated Bob Dyar, Head Chaplain at JGR.
Wynn's contributions have meant more to Gibbs and the entire team than most would realize. Many current or former employees will say that Gibbs sets the precedent for the entire team with his unbelievable energy. Some even wonder if he ever gets tired.
JGR President Dave Alpern believes this energy comes from Game Plan for Life.
"Coach has (spoken at GPFL events) over hundreds of times, but every time it still energizes him," Alpern added. "He's sharing a story of God's faithfulness to him and he knows that it's a story that people need to hear... it fuels him like nothing else."
Alpern described Game Plan for Life as the battery that powers JGR. If the ministry was not around, Gibbs' infectious energy would likely be nonexistent.
This has made Wynn's impact even heavier because it’s been when leading the ministry he cares so deeply about these past several years. And Wynn has become one of Gibbs' greatest encouragers in the process.
"Renaldo is an encourager," Gibbs stated. "He is very supportive, and he has encouraged me a couple of times when I was down and picked me up."
Alpern likes to use an analogy that people are either fountains or drains. Fountains give water, while drains take it away. When you speak to a fountain, you feel encouraged and built up. When you speak to a drain, you feel discouraged and de-energized. Wynn, according to Alpern, is the ultimate fountain.
It is clear Gibbs made a great decision in choosing Wynn to lead his ministry. Wynn has kept the ministry growing and has been a fountain to numerous members of the Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Wynn will be transitioning away from Game Plan for Life to move closer to family in the coming weeks. His time there has been defined by being a light to all those that the ministry has touched as well as being a spark of energy for the entire race team.
Wynn's story is one that displays the value of kindness, compassion, and faith, and his contributions to Joe Gibbs Racing should never be forgotten.
Renaldo Wynn is a passionate man who loves people, and that will take him far in all of his endeavors.
One of Wynn’s former Redskins teammates, James Thrash, will be taking on his role as Executive Director of Game Plan for Life. Thrash shares Wynn’s relentless work ethic and exceedingly joyful presence. Though Wynn is leaving, Game Plan for Life will be in great hands in Thrash.