Thaddeus Bullard was born in a situation with many obstacles, but his mother’s courageous choice for Life has led him to a unique platform where he inspires people of all ages. Bullard, a former college football star, is better known as Titus O’Neil, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., (WWE) celebrity and superstar. O’Neil and his mother, Daria Bullard, recently did an interview with WWE telling their amazing story.
Bullard chose Life for her son when she was just 11 years old. At age 10, she had moved from her grandparents’ home to live with her mother. Her mother’s boyfriend sexually abused Bullard, and while still a child herself, she sacrificed tremendously for her child. She said, “I was scared, of course. I didn’t tell my grandparents. I was feeling more ashamed and embarrassed, like it was my fault that it happened… until years later, when I realized, people telling me it wasn’t my fault. I was just a child. And because I didn’t speak out, nothing was done about it.”
Bullard’s mother tried to coerce her into an abortion, even driving her to south Florida to undergo the procedure that would have taken her son’s Life. Bullard refused and had to leave her mother’s house. Raising her son while still growing up was a struggle and led to many difficulties in their relationship. O’Neil told WWE, “I didn’t find out why that struggle was the way that it was until I was 17 years old… being a product of sexual assault. And that’s how I was brought into this world.” For O’Neil that revelation changed everything. He said, “It was at that moment that I realized that my mother was a kid, trying to raise kids.”
All these years later, Bullard still struggles to talk about the experience and losing her childhood. She tries to focus on the positives and move forward with gratitude. She said, “It could’ve been worse. I could’ve been on drugs, I could’ve been an alcoholic, I could’ve been a lot of things. But he [O’Neil] is a blessing, not only to me and my family immediately, but so many around the world that see where he’s come from, and that, if he could do it, we can too.”
Overcoming tremendous adversity was far from easy. O’Neil did not have a father-figure in the home and was often in trouble as a young teen. “I used to get picked on a lot, because I didn’t have the best clothes, shoes weren’t always the greatest,” he said. “I used to wear broken glasses. My nickname was ‘Eyes.’ And so I used to either fight, or cause a disturbance, in order to try to keep from being the ‘not cool’ guy.”
After finding out about a program for troubled teens through a friend, Bullard made the difficult decision to send her son to the Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, in Live Oak, Florida. At first, he struggled to understand and felt abandoned, but gradually O’Neil learned a new perspective on life that prepared him to excel in school and sports. “That moment, of going there, 12 years old, and feeling like I was thrown away, with already having a strained relationship with my mom… I felt like she had given up on me,” O’Neil said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how much my mom had to sacrifice. My mom didn’t graduate from high school until after I graduated high school. So I try to do my best to give her those moments now, realizing and understanding that like, my mom is still a kid, really.”
O’Neil had success in college football at the University of Florida, winning the national championship in 1996. When injuries prevented him from pursuing a career in the NFL, a friend encouraged O’Neil to consider an unexpected opportunity with WWE. O’Neil grew up watching WWE but never considered a career in entertainment. After a whirlwind audition and contract negotiation, O’Neil began and continues to make regular appearances. Though Bullard was originally skeptical, she is his biggest fan. Talking about seeing her son on TV, Bullard said, “It’s the highlight of my Monday night.”
Bullard and O’Neil continue to look for ways to give back to others in circumstances that they overcame with the help of others. Bullard continues to have gratitude and pride watching her son and two grandsons. She said, “Each accomplishment in his life I treasure, even from the time he was vice president of student council. Whoever would have thought that a kid you had to make go to school, and do what he had to do, could overcome so many things? And to see the grandkids now, I’m very proud of them … I thank God all the time that he realizes that, you’re not just a WWE star. You’re a human being, and you need to make a difference, and you are making a difference in the world. I am a very proud mom. I know sometimes I don’t tell him enough, but he is my pride and joy.”