Ravens lineman hits the road: Bradley and Nikki Bozeman to travel cross-country in RV to combat bullying
The Bozemans turned a passion into a big idea with life-changing results
MIDDLE RIVER, MD – The idea was initially hatched over a year ago, when Nikki Bozeman began talking to her husband, Bradley, about a cross country RV tour. They were already considering a long vacation after this upcoming Super Bowl and figured they might as well combine their wanderlust with their true passion and calling – combating and preventing bullying in our schools.
Bozeman, the Ravens starting left guard whose proposal to Nikki two years ago after winning the national title with Alabama went viral, has been championing bullied and at-risk children since his college days, with the couple devoting themselves to The Bradley And Nikki Bozeman Foundation in their spare time. Helping kids has become their vocation, so what better way to expand the breadth of their message and embrace their love of the open road than to crisscross the United States in an RV for six weeks, driving over 5,000 miles, addressing more than 12,000 kids in 18 schools with stops in 16 states along the way.
They'll leave their home outside of Baltimore on Feb. 10 in a donated RV – the couple recently purchased a house after living in an RV for their first two years with the Ravens – and return on the evening of March 23, giving them about a week in their new home before the Ravens offseason workout program begins. The couple is doing all of their own driving and identified and contacted all of their schools themselves as well, putting together a winter tour to rival anything Garth Brooks ever attempted (the Bozemans are country fans), all for the noblest of causes.
This will be quite a unique road trip.
"It really started from our Facebook page for the foundation," Nikki Bozeman told me recently over a seafood dinner before Bradley's appearance at an autograph signing in Baltimore County. "We've had people contact us from all over the country like, 'Hey, we're in Arizona, we'll pay for your flight if you just come out and speak.' Or, 'Hey, we're in Texas and we want you to speak to our middle school.' So we got a few of those, and I was like, 'That's fine, we'll definitely go there eventually.'
"And then we started to get more and more requests and I was like, 'Wow, there's actually a decent amount of people out there who appreciate our message.' And we're already living in an RV so why don't we just take it cross country? And that's where the idea really started probably about a year ago. And now it's almost here.
She didn't have to sell her husband. He was already simpatico – the Bozemans are an adorable couple who finish each other's sentences without trying and convey a deep affection in mundane ways – and couldn't wait to start what would become months of detailed planning.
"We were both on the same page, really," said Bradley, a fifth-round pick in 2018 who toggled between guard and center before his breakthrough 2019 season. "Once it started things just started rolling and people were calling in from different places. I was like, 'Heck yeah, let's do it! We'll get to travel and see the country - really almost the whole United States - and we get to speak to schools at the same time and support our cause.' We jumped at the opportunity."
Planning and preparing
Some schools had already reached out to the Bozemans in the past about speaking on campus, but most of the trip was booked by cold-calling principles and school officials around the country. The couple wanted to reach as wide a swath of students as possible – rural, urban, affluent and those of fewer means – which required hours of research and negotiation, including how close they could get the schools given the 28-foot vehicle they would be traveling in.
"The first step in the process was, A - where do we want to go?" said Nikki, who played basketball at Alabama but has become a football expert from years of helping her husband study his playbook. "And B - where is the campground and how close is it to where we want to be? Because we're going to be driving in the middle of February, so not all campgrounds are open. And once we found campgrounds that were open, then I found a school in that area. So we're doing high-population schools and low-population schools. Some schools are low-income and some are higher income. We're trying to do the widest range of schools that we can."
Long nights were spent on the phone calling schools out on the West Coast, and there has been constant communication between the Bozemans and their locally based agents Seth Katz and Alan Hobbs at AMG Pro Sports trying to iron out the details. "There really hasn't been a day that has gone by that I haven't talked to Alan about this," Nikki said.
"This is all a testament to Bradley and Nikki," Hobbs said. "They've done the work. If anything I'm just helping to get as many sponsors and contributors as we can."
The Bozemans have secured sponsorships with Pepsi, Dover Raceway, General Tire, local auto dealers and others to help offset the extensive travel costs for this endeavor (to find out more and contribute go to bradnikkibozeman.com).
"It takes a lot of support to put this together," Nikki said. "We need media support, we need physical support, we need word-of-mouth support, we need financial support. It takes a whole team to do this, and we're trying to grow the team, so support is all we're asking for."
This has been a labor of love, including having to take mandatory on-line tutorials and tests in order to get certified to speak to children in several of the school districts they are visiting, spending hours on trucking apps to make sure the roads they are taking allow for a vehicle of their size.
The work being done by the Bozemans has become fairly well known in Maryland, their adopted home, but less so when they began reaching out to schools far away. They had to explain their outreach program to some school officials who were unaware or skeptical.
"Around here you say your husband plays on the Ravens and you want to talk about anti-bullying, and it's like, 'Please come to our school!'" Nikki said. "But when you are calling a school in California they're like, 'Excuse me, what is a Raven? What are you talking about'? And I'm like, 'The NFL team.' And they're like, 'You mean the Chargers?'
"And I'm like, 'No the Baltimore Ravens.' Some were still so confused. And in some school districts you have to go and get certified just to be able to come into the school and interact with the children. There are so many things that come up along the way, so it's been really interesting."
The Bozeman's message
Both Bozemans were victims of bullying as children. Bradley was teased mercilessly for being "short and fat," while Nikki was usually the tallest in her class, often hovering above the boys. They experienced the cruelty firsthand, and it was their mission even before they were married to try to make as many schools as possible more loving, tolerant and empathetic.
The response they have received from so many children, teachers and parents in the past makes all the time and energy spent considering a tour of this magnitude worthwhile. The opportunity to broaden that support network to families outside of Maryland and Alabama, where they have done the bulk of their work, to now literally the entire country through this enterprise was too enticing to resist.
"It's been unreal just how eye-opening this whole thing has been," Bradley said. "We go in and sometimes we have teachers saying that these students might be tough, and then you have this entire room's attention, and it's awesome. And toward the end we always let the kids speak and tell their stories and some kids have opened up in front of all of their peers - in front of everyone – telling their story and why what's happening is happening to them. Some of them are talking about thoughts of suicide or trying to commit suicide. It's been life-changing for us."
As their efforts have continued, families have remained in touch, "We pretty much talk to kids daily now," Nikki said.
It is not uncommon for parents to reach out, concerned by what is transpiring in school. Occasionally they will get an email or call from a student directly.
"It's kind of cool because we've come full circle now," Nikki said. "There is a mom we started out with whose son was really being picked on back in Alabama, and now he's really come into his own and he's three years older and he's playing football now in high school and he's a great kid and he's rocking at life right now and his mom still texts us.
"They watched Tua's Heisman speech (Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa) where he said who the most important people that changed his life. And she asked Blaine who were his most influential people and he said Bradley was his top one. It's really cool to see that now come full circle and how this has impacted kids."
Their foundation has worked very closely with longtime Maryland state delegate Bobby Zirkin, who authored groundbreaking anti-cyberbullying legislation ("Grace's Law," named after a young girl who hung herself after relentless bullying) and fought for children's rights during two decades in the Maryland State Senate. Zirkin, who left politics recently to focus on his legal work and his firm, Chesapeake Sports Consulting, which helps athletes identify and connect with charitable causes and communities in need.
"The reason I was immediately attracted to the Bozemans was the cause," said Zirkin, whose firm manages their presentation and who has visited schools in his district for years with the couple. "Maryland now has the strongest anti-cyberbullying law in the country and model law for how to deal with bullying in schools. So the idea that Bradley and Nikki are pushing to stop bullying is great and one of the things we're going to add to their presentation is why Maryland has sort of become a model for it …
"I love the fact that they are taking this tour nationally, because we really should be taking Maryland law nationally. Brad and Nikki bringing attention to it is a huge help. They are great and they have an instant connection with the kids. It will be interesting to see how they do in other states where the kids don't really know the Ravens. You're going to Salt Lake City and they don't even have a pro football team there, so it will be fascinating to see how they respond.
"Here is a monstrously big guy and an NFL football player, so the idea that he was bullied I think is very powerful, because it means anybody can be bullied. And Nikki too is a superb athlete in her own right. And they are pure in their desire to be involved in this. They are taking a post-season tour and the thing that they want to do most is talk to kids across the country. That's unbelievable."
Seeing the sights
There will be plenty to see and do along the way when they are not engaging with students. The longest segment of their drive will likely be the first leg straight down to Georgia and Alabama from Baltimore. They are used to driving an RV back that way to go home in the offseason and did take it to New York once; everything else is unchartered territory. There were some parts of the country they had just always wanted to visit that they immediately added to the itinerary, and some were more selected more based on folly.
"A few came from country music songs," Nikki said. "Amarillo was one," Bradley immediately chimed in. "And Albuquerque," Nikki added, "some were kind of random like that." They'll be in Texas Feb. 16-20, by the way, and in New Mexico the following two days on the way to their midpoint in San Francisco, where they will spend a week in the Bay Area and check out the Napa Valley before heading back East, gradually.
Brad figures he will do about two-thirds of the driving and they're trying to limit the time behind the wheel to six or so hours at a time. They are still working out a few details on the way back from California, with some schools having spring break or snow cancellations possibly wreaking a little havoc (in which case the Bozemans will take their message to a local Boy's And Girl's Club). They'll be capturing their work on their website and Facebook page and streaming some along the way on Facebook Live as well.
"I'm really excited about seeing the Grand Canyon," Bradley said. "We're doing a full glass floor-to-ceiling train ride into the Grand Canyon and it's like three hours long and they serve food and drinks," Nikki added, "and in Colorado we're going snowmobiling." Her husband immediately chimed in: "Yeah we can't go skiing or anything like that because of the language in my contract."
There's been an ongoing mild debate about what kind of tchotchkes to purchase in each city and state they reach – Bradley's overture about shot glasses is quickly vetoed – and by my count they will have wheels across at least 20 states though they are not stopping in each one, giving them plenty of time to sort it out along the way.
It's a once in a lifetime trip for a cause they clearly intend to embrace for a lifetime. In a perfect world, it would have been the punctuation to a Super Bowl season, with the Ravens the top seed in the AFC, but it will still serve as a profound respite from the grind of an NFL season and six weeks of memories they will never forget.
"We just want to reach as many kids as possible," Nikki said. "These schools always say, 'How many kids do you want?' And we always say as many as will listen. You just want to be able to talk to anyone who will listen."
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