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Professional Athlete Goes From NFL to Judge's Bench

Judge Dwayne Woodruff hands down rulings from the bench in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Juvenile Court
Judge Dwayne Woodruff hands down rulings from the bench in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Juvenile Court

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Tala Hadavi

What does a judge have in common with a professional athlete?  Actually, more than you might think.  Both jobs involve a lot of dedication, preparation, and just plain hard work.  Dwayne Woodruff is a man who can testify to that because he's done both.

When he hands down rulings from the bench in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Juvenile Court, Judge Woodruff is an imposing figure, who commands respect.

He was just as imposing - and commanded just as much respect - in his earlier career as a defensive specialist for the National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers.

Woodruff says he fell in love with football at an early age.  Back then, it provided an opportunity to bond with his father.

"I just remember every Sunday afternoon, it would be me and him sitting on the sofa," Woodruff recalled.  "We'd lock all the doors, close all the shades, and watch the football games all day.  That's what we did every Sunday.  I was just destined to play football."

Woodruff was drafted into the NFL in 1979.  He won a Super Bowl championship ring with the Steelers the following year and went on to spend a total of 11 years in the league.  But along the way, he realized he needed to plan for life after football.

"I wanted to find something that gave me that same feeling as football, that same excitement, where I'd want to get up in the morning and go to work and compete, and law seemed to fit that bill," explained Woodruff.  "It's that competitive process.  The only big difference is you can't hit anybody."

So although he was still playing football full-time, Woodruff began law school at nights, while his wife Joy took on the rest.

"She was mom, dad, taxi driver, cook and everything for four years that I was in school," Woodruff said.  "I would get up in the morning, get ready go to practice, go to work for football, and after that grab a sandwich and go to Duquesne [University] where I went at night."

"It was definitely a lot of work," recalled Joy Woodruff.  "It was important to our family that he pursued his education in order to take care of our family.  And so I felt I had to do my part."

But Dwayne Woodruff did not stop there.  After 16 years of practicing law, with the children grown and out of the house, he felt he needed to pursue his passion further.

"Being a judge felt right in regard to what I wanted to do in life," explained Woodruff.  "In particular being a juvenile court judge [was rewarding] because I have a passion dealing with young people and kids, helping them achieve their dreams.  It was just sort of a perfect position for me.  Being a judge, dealing with kids and being in a servant position."

Judge Woodruff's passion goes far beyond the courtroom.  He and his wife are also involved with multiple charities and continue dedicating their lives to children.

"I think that's the only way to get America back on the right track, to start out with youngest of kids first," added Woodruff.

While the transition from the playing field to the judge's bench may not seem to be an obvious course, Woodruff says playing football and being a judge have a lot in common.  He says both take a lot of work, preparation and determination, along with a lot of belief and faith in what you are doing.

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