Scott Turner, former NFL Player and Trump White House official, joins Liberty & Justice with Matt Whitaker. Scott discussed economic opportunity in our most vulnerable communities and every citizens obligation to lift his fellow citizens up.
SAVE MISSOURI VALUES PAC is this week’s sponsor.
Scott Turner is Chairman of the America First Policy Institute’s Center for Education Opportunity and was the former Executive Director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. He also served in the Texas House of Representatives. During his nine years in the NFL, Scott Turner played cornerback for the Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. He also served as a player representative for four years before retiring in 2004.
SAVE MISSOURI VALUES PAC is this week’s sponsor.
Matt Whitaker was acting Attorney General of the United States (2018-2019). Prior to becoming acting Attorney General, Mr. Whitaker served as Chief of Staff to the Attorney General. He was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa by President George W. Bush, serving from 2004-2009. Whitaker was the managing partner of Des Moines based law firm, Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff LLP from 2009 until rejoining DOJ in 2017. He was also the Executive Director for FACT, The Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust, an ethics and accountability watchdog, between 2014 and 2017. Mr. Whitaker is Author of the book--Above the Law, The Inside Story of How the Justice Department Tried to Subvert President Trump.
Mr. Whitaker graduated with a Master of Business Administration, Juris Doctor, and Bachelor of Arts from the University of Iowa. While at Iowa, Mr. Whitaker was a three-year letterman on the football team where he received the prestigious Big Ten Medal of Honor.
Mr. Whitaker is now a Co-Chair of the Center for Law and Justice at America First Policy Institute and a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union Foundation. Matt is on the Board of Directors for America First Legal Foundation and is a Senior Advisor to IronGate Capital Advisors. He is also Of Counsel with the Graves Garrett law firm. Whitaker appears regularly to discuss legal and political issues on Fox News, Newsmax and other news outlets. He splits his time between Iowa, Florida and Washington, D.C.
Intro [00:00:00] Matt Whitaker, former US acting attorney general. Such a great conversation about America, our future, what's going to save our republic. We have a great football player. Matt Whitaker is here. Matt They tried to bury me. They didn't realize I was a seed. Whitaker Former acting U.S. attorney. General under President Trump, I am going to be an unwavering supporter of law enforcement. Welcome to Liberty and Justice with your host, Matt Whitaker. Today's episode is sponsored by Save Missouri Values PAC.
Matt Whitaker [00:00:35] Welcome to Liberty and Justice. I'm Matt Whitaker. So excited to have my friend Scott Turner on. Scott, thanks for joining us.
Scott Turner [00:00:44] Great to be with you, Matt. Looking forward to it.
Speaker 2 [00:00:47] I have this is, I think the 16th episode, 15th episode of Liberty and Justice. And since I started the show, I've been trying to get you on. I thought I had you at the AFPI thing we had a couple of weeks ago, but we weren't able to coordinate our schedules. And so this is something that I've been looking forward to, because you know what I know about you? You and I both competed against each other. You're a little younger than me. But in, you know, 91, 92, when we both played in the Big Ten, you for Illinois, me for Iowa. And we've had that connection and that's that shared experience. And so I just. But your story is better than mine. And I'll tell you why, because, you know, oftentimes on this show, Scott, we highlight sort of people that have lived the American dream. And while, you know, sort of I grew up in suburban Des Moines, Iowa. You know, my parents, you know, put me in the best school that always turned out college football players. Your story, I don't think people would, you know, put money on you as a 15 year old said this kid's going to play for a decade in the NFL, so why don't you tell me, you know, in the granular details, kind of how you got from, you know, you growing up and then ultimately, you know, some of the challenges you faced, but ultimately how you played in the NFL and played so successfully.
Scott Turner [00:02:07] Well thank you, Matt. And you, you know, you're a great example of what a true patriot and American servant leader is. And I so appreciate you and your service to our country. You are a tremendous athlete. Obviously, you played at the University of Iowa, the Hawkeyes.
Speaker 2 [00:02:28] The University of Iowa. We call it, right?.
Scott Turner [00:02:32] That's right. And so I just really appreciate you. You know, my story is one where it is filled with grace and mercy. And really, the hand of God snatched me out of a very difficult situation and put in the right people around me every step of the way. And I say that because I came from two loving parents. My parents were married when they were 18 years old, right out of high school, and they had me right out of high school. But unfortunately, my parents marriage didn't last past ten years because it was filled with violence, domestic violence, abuse, a lot of anger, alcohol. And so my father taught me a tremendous work ethic. My mother taught me to have a tremendous faith in the Lord, but their marriage didn't work out. And because of that, the child suffers. And I was a product of a broken family, a broken home. And in particularly in the black community, you know, you just become really another number and another statistic, if you will, of a young kid from a broken home, from a poor family, you know. But, you know, the Lord had a different plan. And as I say, you know, I learned those two things from my parents about working hard and have a tremendous faith. And along the way, people came alongside me to help me to help me to realize that I had talent, you know, yes, athletically, but also scholastically and people to help me along the way to tell me, you know what, you can be somebody. Even though you came from a distressed, broken situation, you can make something out of yourself. And so from a high level overview, you know, I'm very grateful for those people that came along side of me, be it coaches, be it teachers, be it family, you know, not my my birth family, but other families in the community. And for my school in particular, the Basso family who came along side of me to teach me and to help me and to help my mother, you know, as she was trying to raise me as a single mother. And so, Matt, my story, as I said, is one filled with grace. And people come alongside of me. When I went to Illinois, you know, I knew nothing about college. Nobody in my family had ever been to college. I was a first generation college student, in particular a college athlete. But my godfather, Dan Basso, he just passed away two and a half months ago. But way back when, in 1990, he asked me where I was getting recruited. And so I start telling them these schools that I was being recruited from. And, you know, I was like, you know, Arkansas and USC and Notre Dame's as you've been through this process. And then I sit in this one school called Illinois, and I said, But I think I'm going to go to Arkansas, you know, because they're going to let me run, track and play football. He said, No, no, no. He said, I went to Illinois. And so that's. Where you're going. And so I ended my recruiting process, right then I went to University of Illinois. I met my wife at Illinois. I ran track and played football. And then as you stated earlier, I got drafted in 1995 and played nine years in the National Football League.
Matt Whitaker [00:05:47] Well, hold on. I'm going to I'm going to call a stop because you just skipped over the best parts of this story. And I've heard it, you know, and, you know, you're too complimentary. I am a humble sinner at best, and someone that, you know, sort of oftentimes fails. But through grace, to your point, I have been saved and, you know, feel like, you know, I'm going to do the best I can to fulfill, you know, the calling that we all are called to do and and grow and expand God's kingdom. And that's why maybe one of the reasons I'm always attracted to you is because you are so firm in your faith and in your in your beliefs, you know, in a risen savior, but you like. Let's talk about let's talk about high school's focus. And in that minute. All right. So you went to you grew up in in a my my understanding correct me if I'm wrong but you did not grow up in an affluent community outside of Dallas, did you?
Scott Turner [00:06:48] No. I grew up in Richardson, Texas. Okay. And I went to J.J. Pierce high school, and we were probably the poorest family at J.J.. Pierce. But, you know, that is a tremendous school. It is to this day. And I was a two-sport athlete in high school, and I did pretty well in school. As far as you know, my grades were up to par. I had a great counselor at J.J. Pierce that encouraged me along the way. I didn't even know I had to take the act and sat. And she taught me and helped me. And I did pretty good on those tests and received a scholarship to Illinois. And while at high school, I also worked at a barbecue restaurant called Spring Creek Barbecue. I was a dishwasher. Yeah. And, you know, a lot of my friends used to come through the restaurant and laugh at me because they were out going to parties and hanging out. But I was in the back, in the kitchen, you know, filled with suds and barbecue sauce would be in the dishwasher. But I'm so grateful for those times because it taught me to be faithful in the little things, you know? It taught me to be humble, as you say it.
Matt Whitaker [00:07:53] Well, and you and I share that same background. I was a dishwasher at Mr. K's restaurant in Ankeny Iowa. And there is I really think maybe this is the solution to teaching kids how to be successful is making them wash dishes in a restaurant for a year or two. Because I you know, I mean, not only do you see how, you know, how hard you had to work and, you know, under really tough conditions, always hot, you know, the sort of the chemicals that you're using to disinfect that that, you know, and just everybody's you've seen every leftover what they didn't want to eat. And then on top of that, you know, you're interacting with the cooks and the waitresses and the and the staff, you know, and seeing how hard adults have to work to to provide for their families to put food on the table. And certainly, I think, you know, in modern day America, college education, you know, one that you and I both got through playing football in the Big Ten, I think is, you know, is is a way out of sort of those opportunities. And I'm not suggesting listen, I nobody listening. This should suggest that I grew up in really difficult situation. I you know, my mom and dad, who were still alive in the eighties, provided everything I needed, but not too much. And, you know, they put me in a in a community that was, you know, valued really sports above all else. And so, you know, I ended up playing baseball run track, playing basketball and playing football. You grew up, you know, through my senior year. And that obviously, you know, enabled me to sort of do other things. But I think the dishwashing and you said that I thought to myself, you know, that's a moment in time. I did that for two years. And it was it was hard. And it, like, showed me that I didn't want to be dishwashing the rest of my life, but I do like barbecue. So I would've probably stayed at a barbecue restaurant for good in a job like that. Mine was more of a fast service kind of breakfast place, but it was my life experience. So. So you go to Illinois and you, you know, you're. You you start as a freshman farmer, right? Right. You're.
Scott Turner [00:09:54] Well, when I went to Illinois, I went in as a running back.
Matt Whitaker [00:09:57] Okay.
Scott Turner [00:09:57] You know, and I'm a you've saved, you know, me, I'm not the biggest guy. And but I did run track, you know, so I had a little speed. And so I went in as a running back and I played running back my whole life, you know, going up to Illinois. But when I got there, I said, What made you so small? You know, I mean, I'm five, ten, 172 pounds at that time, you know? So I'm not the smallest guy, but I'm definitely not the biggest guy in particularly running back in the Big Ten, you know, you got the Tyrone Wheatley, that of world. But we had.
Matt Whitaker [00:10:25] Well, we had Nick Bell, who's 6-5 245 pounds. And so, yeah, there's, there's some big boys.
Scott Turner [00:10:33] Right? So they switched me to, to receiver back to running. But you know, so the first three years I would just switch me back and forth. Back and forth. Yeah. And then I was playing special teams and then my sophomore year or my junior year, I suffered a broken jaw in practice. So I missed all my junior year until the bowl game and then my senior year they moved me to defensive back so they took me out of my comfort zone. I have never played defense. I've never even backpedal ever. And you know, it's one of those.
Matt Whitaker [00:11:03] Different and serve for a sprint, a track guy running backwards is something you don't do, maybe even warming up at most.
Scott Turner [00:11:11] Right. And that's it. That's the only time you run backwards. But now they want me to play cornerback. And you know, I'll say this because oftentimes, you know, the Lord would take us out of our comfort zone to grow us, stretched us really to to mold us and to break things off of us and to teach us. And Sherman Smith, who was discipling me at the time, he was a former NFL player and he was a current coach at Illinois. He said if you get an opportunity to go to defense, you should take it. And Aeneas Williams, who was in the league at the time, was also mentoring me. And he said, you can do it. And so when they told me they were going to switch me to cornerback, I watched the guys that were in front of me and I learned from them. How do you backpedal? What does it mean to backpedal and then to stop and go forward in two steps? Right. That was all a foreign concept to me. But man, what it did to me is it stretched me and it taught me and it put me in a position to where I had to learn how, not just to play the position, but to hone my craft and become excellent in what I was doing. So the little things, as you know, matter so much.
Matt Whitaker [00:12:23] Well, yeah. And you point out an important concept that I have tried to teach my children. All the kids I've coached is something that I didn't learn from my parents. And I wish every parent would teach their kids. And that is the concept of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. You know, when you start anything new, it's going to be hard. And I think a lot of people, if it doesn't come easy, they're willing to quit because they have a fixed mindset. It's the way they've always been. But you know, you clearly had a growth mindset where you knew that sort of your first day running backwards with somebody running at you full speed was, you know, you could get better from that, that you would improve by time. And I think that's such an important concept and own it plays out in someone's life. I always like to highlight that. Yeah. So you're you're playing in Illinois your senior year. You have a good year. And so of course you get invited to the NFL's scouting combine. Right.
Scott Turner [00:13:18] No. , I should have
Matt Whitaker [00:13:20] I know the story. So.
Scott Turner [00:13:24] You know, one would think that I was a starter on the defense at Illinois. And as you remember, we had a top notch defense. I mean, we had, you know, NFL prospects on our defense and had this a tremendous group of guys. And I was a starter. And so you would think that because of that and having a decent near that, I would get invited to the combat. But I tell people all the time, I looked at my mailbox for my invitation for two weeks and the invitation never came. And, you know, a lot of times in life, you know, when we're looking for something, no, expecting someone to come or someone and it doesn't show up or they don't show up. As you said, man, we want to quit. We want to throw in the towel and give it. But my mindset was, man, I have come too far. And, you know, my parents got divorced. I was standing on a porch with my mother when my father left our house. And I told my mom I was going to the NFL that day. I was ten years old. I'll never forget it. And now here you are. I'm 23 years old. I'm getting ready to graduate from college. Well, I've already graduated. The NFL combine is here. I don't have an invitation. There's no teams calling me. But the dream was still just as strong. And so what I started doing, I started running stadium steps, you know, Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. I would run all three tiers as fast as I could until I couldn't even feel my legs. I mean, my legs were no, my heart was about to jump out of my chest. But the dream and the vision and the promise kept me going. And my faith was pulling me, even though I had no phone calls from teams, no invitation from anyone. And a lot of times even today and I hope that you when your listeners see this, you know, when the dream doesn't seem like it's going to come, when it seems like, you know, your aspirations are not coming to pass, that's not the time to give in. That's the time to even dig in even further and have a greater vision and stay focused and put one step in front of another. I didn't want to work out by myself every day. I did one over on stadium steps every day out of me, even want to go to school. I was in graduate school at the time, but I knew I had to do what I had to do to get out of. Our comfort zone to bring what's in my control. Now, God's in ultimate control, but in my control to do what I need it to do.
Matt Whitaker [00:15:38] And so you do get a chance, because there's these saints called pro days. There's a combine where they invite people and they they pick them apart. But then there's a pro day where every senior has a chance to run and do some testing with NFL scouts. And I went through the same experience. But I think this is maybe where your fortunes and your hard work all came together tell this story because I just think it's so amazing.
Scott Turner [00:16:05] What? Thank you. So, yeah, we had a pro day. My agent called and said, Hey, there's about 22 teams coming to Illinois to get a second look at the guys I just saw at the combine. And my agent asked if I could work out for them and they gave him permission. That's fine, I could work out. And so the teams came to Memorial Stadium. We had an indoor facility at that time was a bubble over the field. And when they came in the door, I mean, all of these teams you saw, all the logos, you've seen it, you know, Jacksonville, Carolina, Washington, Oakland Raiders, remember them, the Houston Oilers, they all came in, you know, and I don't remember every team. And they said, Guys, we're going to run a 40 yard dash. And I kind of my heart kind of left a little bit. I said, Well, okay, I think I could do pretty good in this one. And so the guys who they came really to see, they let all of them go first because they would a prospect. You know, I wasn't really a prospect. I was just a kid. They would go let work out. And so when I came to the starting line, Matt and I looked up. They were looking at me as if they didn't know who I was. And they were like, Man, what is your name? You know? And I told them, Scott Turner, you know, and I had no idea, right? And I said, Well, hey, come on, you know, you can run. You're here. And it was almost like I was wasting their time, but they were there. So they said, okay, just cover up what? I didn't know my name at first, but I said in my mind they haven't seen me standing on a porch with my mom broken and battered. They didn't see me running these stupid stadium steps day in and day out in Champaign, Illinois, in freezing cold weather. And so, Matt, when I stood on the starting line, I didn't see 22 coaches. I saw 22 stopwatches. And just like I ran those stadium stairs, I said, I'm going to get from here to there as fast as I can. And man, I took off running and when I crossed the finish line, they were amazed. And I start hollering and amazed like, wow. And the watches were four, two, four, four, two, five, four, two, seven, you know, and so on and so forth. And so I ran a really fast time and I thank God to this day that at that moment, that one opportunity that I ran, the fastest time that I had ever run in my life up to that point. And as I said before, you know it, I was standing on the porch of my mother. I was ten years old. And on that day I ran a 40 I was 23. And so that was 13 years of preparation for 4.2 seconds. And it literally changed my life forever.
Matt Whitaker [00:18:39] Yeah.
Scott Turner [00:18:40] And I encourage people because oftentimes we like to put a clock on the dream. Well, it has to come to pass like this or at this point. But I encourage you, when I asked, you know, how long are you willing to hold on for your dream and the vision? 13 years of preparation for 4.2 seconds. That's a lot of years for a short period of time. But because of that, and I thank God for this, I was ready. I didn't have to get ready. When they came, I was already prepared. And by God's grace, I ran that fast. Then I got drafted. April 22nd, 1995. Take number 226 at the Washington Redskins. And when I got picked, when Norv Turner called me on draft day, he said, You don't have a lot of experience. You don't have a lot of faith. I'm just one season. And he said, But you ran a for two and a 40 and he said, We can work with that. Yeah. Now Washington Redskin and the rest is history.
Matt Whitaker [00:19:41] Yeah. And that's amazing. And you spent nine years in the league, which, you know, for guys like me who didn't play in the league, I know one thing, actually, two things. One is that the NFL's Saints are not for long now. Second things, you play five years, you get a pension. So congratulations. Let's let's fast forward because like so much of what you've done recently, you know, in the limited time we have together is so important. And, you know, I know in the Trump administration, you you came out at the White House. In fact, I think your first day on the job, you and I had lunch together with Rick Perry and Mike Rollins at the in the Navy mess. And we talked about kind of what you done and what your plan for. But it was really helping implement and revitalize some. Of our struggling communities. So I want to talk a little bit about kind of your work at the White House and kind of what you learn from that experience.
Scott Turner [00:20:39] Sure. So on April 4th, 2019, President Trump appointed me to be the executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. This council was set up because of the opportunity zones that were part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. And so this newly formed council was made up of 15 domestic agencies, and then our state and regional partners, Northern Border States, Delta Regional Authority and Appalachian, and then the domestic agencies of which obviously, you know, of of HUD, labor deal, you know, education and so on and so forth. And my job was to be the ambassador for the opportunities on initiative around our country, inside of opportunity zones. Opportunity zones are those poverty stricken communities across the country which every governor and territory leader nominated, and then the Treasury later certified. And so those 8764 opportunity zones around our nation. And my job was to travel to as many of these as I could with the message of revitalization, to build public private partnerships, to convene stakeholders together. So elected officials, entrepreneurs, faith leaders, education leaders, community leaders, all at the same table met at one time to have the hard conversation. Why is this area blighted? Why is there decay? Why haven't we seen any kind of investment? What's the pain of the community? And then at the same time come up with solutions for long term sustainability and ultimately community development and economic impact. And it was a life changing experience for me to be able to represent our country as you have so graciously, and to go into these communities at the behest of the White House to build these public private partnerships, to serve the least of these, if you will, the most poverty stricken areas in our country to bring new life not by way of government program, but by way of privately led, privately focused institutions and initiatives to bring economic and community impact. So I traveled to about 80 cities around the country leading this effort, and it was tremendously fruitful. And the work is not yet done.
Matt Whitaker [00:23:06] Can you tell me about a couple of the projects that you've seen blossom out of that program?
Scott Turner [00:23:12] Yes. So in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, one of the first opportunities on projects or first opportunities for businesses was from a lady, Susan Springsteen, Sting. And she purchased all a dilapidated building in downtown Coatesville and turned it into an innovation hub. So she and her business partner to remodel the building. They worked at the local high schools and I believe community college and brought in students and businesses in this innovation hub and recently just built another brand new building next to that sort of job creation as community impact. And there's economic development. That's one that I'm really just proud to see because I saw it from when it was just all building and dirt, literally just the ground. And now to be a great business, also in Cleveland, Ohio, in the Treme, northeast Cleveland area, a brand new bakery with 97 units of workforce, housing and retail wrapped around it in an opportunity zone. And there's so many here in West Dallas old strip mall that was purchased by Ray Washburne and his group. They turn that strip mall, the anchor store, into a grocery store because, you know, in a lot of urban distressed areas and rural distressed areas, there's a food desert and a health desert. And so now it's a brand new grocery store that employs people from the neighborhood. And so and there's many stories, but those are some that stick out that really touched me along the way because I've seen the impact of.
Matt Whitaker [00:24:47] Yeah, yeah. And it's such a it was such a smart and important program. And I know that Senator Tim Scott was one of the main proponents of that, putting that in the the Jobs Act. And it's going to pay dividends for generations, you know, because it incense people to do what needs to be done, revitalize our communities, build in places which typically wouldn't get capital put into it because there are advantages to that. So that's that's fantastic. Well, what are you doing now, Scott? I mean, I tell, you know, all the people that are watching liberty and justice and I mean, now they're totally hooked, like I am their fans. What what are you doing now? How are you serving your community? And you know the nation. The greater nation.
Scott Turner [00:25:34] Yes. So from a community standpoint, I serve as associate pastor at Preston Baptist Church here in Plano, Texas, which I love. I get opportunity to preach the gospel and to minister and disciple families of the community. And also, I serve out a FPI, the America First Policy Institute, as the chairman of the Center for Education Opportunity with my dear friend Brooke Rollins, yourself and others, you know, we're on that team to bring back, you know, the policies and the legislation to make our country great. And so that's been a great blessing. And then to serve with Dr. Ben Carson at the American Cornerstone Institute. And you know how much I love Dr. Carson.
Matt Whitaker [00:26:23] He's such a great, decent man.
Scott Turner [00:26:25] He's really he is.
Matt Whitaker [00:26:26] One of a kind.
Scott Turner [00:26:27] Right. And so that and then at the America First Institute, sorry, events in American Freedom with former Vice President Pence, you know, and helping him and his advisory council there. And so I'm serving by way of policies and legislation, as you and I have, you know, in the years past. So to keep those policies in front of the American people. And then from a business standpoint, the work that we were doing with opportunity zones, it was just so fruitful that I felt like the Lord wanted me to continue in that. And so I brought that same work now to the private sector to partner with investors and developers and things of that nature, to build emerging markets, to build distressed communities by way of operating businesses, workforce housing, to give people an opportunity to be lifted up out of poverty and be self-sustainable. So I'm still doing the same work with just now in the private sector.
Matt Whitaker [00:27:21] Yeah, well, that's amazing. You know, one of the messages that I'm always trying to communicate through this show is, you know, the American dream is unique to the United States of America. We need to share it and spread it across all of our fellow citizens in every community. I think you're a prime example of someone that's doing that. I would encourage everybody, you know, to to live a life like Scott Turner to do more with the blessings. You have to really lean in to those opportunities because, I mean, you're just you are what's great about our country. And I consider you a friend and I'm lucky to have you as a friend.
Scott Turner [00:27:58] Well, bless you.
Matt Whitaker [00:28:00] Thanks for joining me on Liberty and Justice. And as everyone that watches. It knows it premieres every Friday at 7 p.m. on C PAC now and then of course you can see it on Whitaker, DCTV or anywhere else that you get podcasts or video shows. And so Scott. Until next time, we'll talk to you again.
Scott Turner [00:28:20] Thank you, brother. Appreciate you.