For NFL's Arthur Moats ('12), giving back is a 'no-brainer'


by Jan Gillis ('07)

Photo of Arthur and Shonda Moats and their family

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker's accomplishments on the football field are surpassed by his generosity off of it

By Jim Heffernan ('96)

From Winter 2016 Madison.

An introduction to community service

Growing up in Portsmouth, Virginia, Arthur Moats ('12) learned the values of hard work, humility and service from his parents, both pastors in the local community. During the summer months, after Sunday church service, the family delivered loaves of bread door to door in some of the city's less fortunate neighborhoods near their church. In the winter, they brought hot chocolate to the homeless.

"Being introduced to community outreach at a young age, it made it a part of my life," he says.

Now a husband and father of three, Moats and his wife Shonda are instilling those same values in their own children.

"Anywhere we're at, it's always a point of emphasis for me and my family to be involved in the community because of the impact that we're able to make," says Moats, a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League and an NFL 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner for his volunteer and charity work as a member of the Buffalo Bills. "Helping individuals who aren't in the best of situations ... it's an amazing feeling. And it teaches our children [that] when you're in a position of privilege, you should give back."

Moats gives back to his alma mater, too, most recently donating $300,000 toward a new JMU Convocation Center and endowing a student scholarship at Madison in the studio arts, one of his lifelong pursuits.

Madison Experience

A standout athlete at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, Moats arrived at JMU on a football scholarship in the fall of 2006. He says his Madison Experience helped him become the player — and the person — he is today. "As a player, I learned to take the game seriously and not just rely on my abilities, but understand the preparation needed to be a champion and the work ethic that you need to have," he says. "It was also about doing the right things on and off the field and ultimately setting an example for the younger players.

'... it's always a point of emphasis for me and my family to be involved in the community because of the impact we're able to make.'

"As a person, [JMU] definitely helped build character and understand that nothing is going to be given to you in life and that you have to work extremely hard to achieve the success you want," he adds. "The same is true of academics. At JMU you're going to get an excellent education, but you have to put in the work."

Photo of the Arthur Moats
Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2010, Moats signed a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014.

A four-year starter at defensive end for the Dukes, Moats recorded 218 tackles — 108 of them unassisted — including 48.5 tackles for a loss and 29 sacks. As a senior, he was named the 2009 Buck Buchanan Award winner as the nation's top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). That same year, sports information directors from Virginia's 10 Division I football programs selected him as the state's Defensive Player of the Year. Moats' dream of playing professional football was realized when the Buffalo Bills selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. But he never lost sight of another important life goal — to earn a college degree.

"Anytime I set my mind to do something, I want to accomplish it," he says. "Finishing my degree was important to me. It's part of my character and work ethic. ... I wanted to set an example and inspire people to understand that you can still go back and ultimately complete things that you started and reach a milestone in your life."

After his rookie season in Buffalo, Moats returned to Madison to complete his degree in political science. It was during that time that he met Shonda, a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University.

"We both have family in Harrisonburg and love the community," Shonda says. "We have a lot of lifelong friends there. It will always be a place that we visit and come back to."

A role model

While in Buffalo, Moats emerged as a leader in the Bills locker room and a role model in the community. He hosted students from the city's Closing the Gap/Say Yes to Education program, providing participants with holiday gift cards to spend on themselves and their families, and he spent time in the offseason at Buffalo's Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, where he urged students to pursue their artistic passions.

In addition to a $5,000 gift to his high school's football program, Moats donated $2,500 to the school's art program.

In 2013 he reached out to a police officer in James City County, Virginia, who had been injured in the line of duty. The officer, a diehard Bills fan, credits Moats with motivating and encouraging him to get back on his feet. Moats rewarded him with tickets to a Bills game.

Since signing a free-agent contract with the Steelers in 2014 and moving his family to Pittsburgh, Moats has maintained a strong relationship with the United Way and Ronald McDonald House as well as the NFL's Play 60 initiative, which encourages America's youth to be active for at least 60 minutes every day.

"Arthur demonstrates a sincere respect for everyone he meets," says Casey Carter, a mentor in the Student Athlete Leadership Development program at JMU. "He is loyal to his family, friends and alma mater. And he believes that community involvement is a basic responsibility of life and has always been willing to donate his time, talents and positive spirit to activities and individuals in need." Moats is busy laying the foundation for his life after football. He is currently working on a master's degree in community and economic development from Empire State College in New York, and is considering becoming a mentor of athletes, either at the collegiate level or with the NFL's Career Development Program.

Asked if his children know about his alma mater, Moats replies, "Two of them know all about JMU, and the baby boy is learning as we speak. The only college they want to go to is JMU."

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Published: Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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