Elmer Smith: Ricky Watters, adoption crusader

Ex-Eagle Ricky Watters and wife Catherina adopted their 2nd son.
Ex-Eagle Ricky Watters and wife Catherina adopted their 2nd son.
Posted: December 22, 2008

YOU COULDN'T blame Ricky Watters and his wife if they had soured on the idea of adopting a son.

They had raised their first adoptive son from birth. Watters, his wife and their oldest son had built a life around their new addition.

But that chapter came to a sudden and emotional end when one of the infant's biological grandparents decided she couldn't let him go.

"We had him for six months," Watters told me Friday.

The former Eagles running back was in town with state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams giving away turkeys. It's a charitable activity that he has been doing in his native Harrisburg for years.

But the food giveaway, which he extended to Philadelphia for the first time this year, is almost a sideline for his foundation. The issue that occupies much of his time these days is encouraging African-American families to become adoptive parents.

He didn't get into this because some adoption agency targeted him as an NFL star. Adoption is the story of his life. He was raised in what he described as "humble" surroundings by adoptive parents who loved and provided for him.

So, even though Watters and his wife, Catherina, gave birth eight years ago to their first son, Ricky, and could have had more, they were eager to adopt their second son.

Two years ago, they got the call. A child that seemed perfectly matched to their family was about to be born.

"It was two young parents," he recalled. "My wife met the mother and befriended her.

"She and her mother picked us. My wife is Chinese and the child is mixed Asian and African-American.

"My wife went to meet the girl. They hit it off. She had the child and gave it to my wife."

They named the boy after his biological father, a 16-year-old schoolboy.

"We wanted him to know who his father was," Watters said. "I went for a long time trying to find out where I came from.

"I was 32 when I found my mom. I don't think that's fair for any child to have to do."

What happened next may not seem fair. But it's one of the potential pitfalls of adoptions.

The infant's biological grandmother wanted the child.

"People were upset at the mother for choosing to give the child up for adoption."

Despite the emotionally jarring experience, the Watterses never gave up on the idea of adoption. But they weren't looking when the call came this time.

"We got a memo that there was a child available in Korea," he said. "The mother is Korean and the father Nigerian. That doesn't go too well in Korea, you know."

They flew to Korea earlier in February and found themselves surrounded by adopting parents and a roomful of Asian babies. They didn't see theirs.

"He was upstairs," Watters said. "I saw him right away. He had this big afro."

Shane Watters is 19 months old now with loving parents and a big brother who adores him.

"He wanted a little brother so bad," Watters said of his son Ricky. "What is even more awesome is how he stepped up to the plate. He's like a junior father."

The adoption, Watters said, was a way to thank his adoptive parents and "to pay that forward.

"Now, I'm looking at some of these foster kids, some older child who is 13 or 14 years old.

"There's too many of us [African-Americans] who aren't taking any responsibility for all these children who aren't getting adopted."

He has become a vocal advocate, prodding his celebrity friends to adopt or take foster children into their homes.

Ken Griffey Jr., a longtime friend, has responded by adopting a child. NBA star Grant Hill and his wife, Tamika, are considering it too, Watters said.

With a husband and two sons, you'd think his wife would want the next child to be a girl.

"Nahh," Watters said. "I think my wife likes being the only girl in the house." *

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith

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