McALLEN — When Nate Newton was an All-Pro offensive guard for the Dallas Cowboys, he made intermittent appearances at schools to half-heartedly tell the gathered masses "Don’t do drugs."
A decade later, his message is delivered with decidedly more purpose.
That will happen to someone after he spends 32 months in prison for drug trafficking.
"For so long, I lived in a fantasy world," said Newton, who was in the Rio Grande Valley to see if he was a candidate for IntraLASIK surgery at Dr. Raul Peña’s offices in McAllen. He also took the opportunity to speak to a half-dozen schools about his trials and tribulations since retiring from the NFL.
"When I got out of football I never had a job a day in my life."
Newton, 44, played 13 of his 14 NFL seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, was selected to six Pro Bowls and owns three Super Bowl rings as an integral part of the Cowboys’ dominant teams of the 1990s.
But that’s not the story the gregarious former offensive lineman is telling school children. He instead talks about how quick the fall from the top was for him.
"I tell the kids I was a smart dummy, because I knew what I was doing was wrong and I knew that one day it was going to come to an end," Newton said. "When they finally caught me I found out I wasn’t smart at all. I was just a dummy all of the time."
Through his good-natured, humorous interviews while a Cowboy, Newton appeared to be a sure thing for a second career as a broadcaster once his playing days were over. In fact, he worked as a commentator for ESPN radio and did some work on BET football coverage upon retirement.
Then in November 2001, he made the ill-advised decision to transport 213 pounds of marijuana and was busted driving a minivan with Mexico license plates in Louisiana.
Finally, to prove that two wrongs don’t make a right, he was caught trafficking 175 pounds of marijuana in Texas just one month later while out on bail. The justice system wasn’t about to be fooled twice and Newton was sentenced to serve hard time.
For many familiar with Newton, getting caught twice trying to traffic drugs is their most recent memory of him. As such, he’s fallen into a second career as a public speaker trying to caution children not to take the crooked path he chose after football.
Peña, who says a brush with death in an auto accident while in medical school changed his perspective on life, says he’s helping give Newton a second chance to clear his image. Promoting the ex-Cowboy turned con for his business could be perceived as a risk, but it’s one he’s willing to take, he said.
"He goes and visits hundreds of schools every year and he’s doing the right thing and he’s trying to make a difference," Peña said. "We want to make sure the kids know that, and that he’s been through it and at least try to make a difference and help them make the right decision.
"I want everybody to know what kind of person Nate is now. Not to say, ‘Oh, he was in jail. What’s he doing with Peña?’ He is a good man."
Changing the perception that comes with two drug arrests is going to be a long process.
Newton’s going to have to deliver a number of messages like the one he gave to Valley students this week before he wins over all the people who have forgotten about his glory on the field, thanks to his drug busts off of it.
"I want to say one thing about Nate," said Alamo Parks and Recreation Director Mark Lozano, who helped organize Newton’s appearance in the Valley.
"I’ve dealt with a lot of kids and been to a lot of speeches. We literally had 1,100 kids in our Brownsville visit (Tuesday) and I’ve never seen 1,100 kids in one room quiet down like I’ve seen them.
"Nate has a message. It’s a strong message and he has a lot to say, and a lot of those kids listened, and that’s what’s important."
Todd Mavreles is a sports reporter for