Watch CBS News

Retired San Francisco 49er Dennis Brown Turns Focus to Helping Community

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A former San Francisco 49er defensive end known for his abilities on the field is now tackling a new career in community service.

Dennis Brown staffs a pop-up pantry for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank that feeds 950 people. Most have no clue he's a former 49er with a Super Bowl ring.

"I'm not Dennis Brown. I'm Dennis the food bank worker. And it's cool," he said.

It wasn't always cool. When he was released from the team after seven seasons with the Niners, initially retirement wasn't easy.

"That was my identity. That's all I knew: Dennis Brown the football player. I got outside of myself. I dealt with some demons," Brown explained.

He credits Alcoholics Anonymous with his four years of sobriety.

"When I got myself together, I went to my foundation -- my grandmother -- and serving. And in A.A., you talk about serving. And you dedicate your life to serving," he said.

When the pandemic broke out in March 2020, Brown volunteered six days a week for the S.F.-Marin Food Bank, St. Anthony's, Meals on Wheels and other nonprofits.

The food bank finally hired him to coordinate pop-up pantries that feed 33,000 families a week. That's half the households the food bank serves.

When Brown was a child, his family was on the receiving end of the assistance.

"In L.A., getting from the food pantry was essential. We were always afraid of running out of food," Brown remembered.

But he was raised by his grandmother, who brought him and his sister to skid row every week to serve the homeless.

"We would give fresh water to people who didn't have fresh water," Brown recalled.

Brown now lives that legacy of service.

Pop-up pantry supervisor Louisa Cantwell says at the neighborhood sites, he reaches out to make sure passersby know they can get food if they need it.

"He reduces the stigma around food insecurity. He is outreach in action," Cantwell said.

Brown ensures Carlos Torres doesn't leave empty handed after he's finished his temp job of distributing food at the pantry.

"It helps me stretch my budget a lot," Torres said, appreciating the variety of produce offered.

Brown, a co-host of KNBR's Niners pre-game and post-game radio shows, has supported countless nonprofits over the years.

They include the InnVision Shelter Network, Bayview YMCA, and the Police Activities League in San Mateo and San Francisco, where he's currently a board member.

He's also helped with toy drives, along with his wife, a San Francisco fire chief.

Former 49ers player and current Vice President and Special Assistant to the General Manager Keena Turner says he's inspired that Brown shares his life story and his contagious joy of giving.

"I have the utmost respect for this dude as a person," said Turner. "There's been many times when I've said, 'We've made a commitment, we've got to do it.' You see him, that energy he brings and you're like, 'I've got to keep up with Dennis, 'cause Dennis is ready.'"

Turner noted that Brown has won the 49ers alumni community-service award eight years in a row. So many times, Turner laughed, that the team is basically calling it the Dennis Brown Award.

"I really believe it's what I'm supposed to be doing: a life of service," Brown said.

So for giving back through years of faithful community service, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dennis Brown.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.