Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff is all about the challenge. He challenges others, such as the juvenile offenders who come before him in the family court division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in Pittsburgh. He directs them to do better and volunteers for several programs to help at-risk kids succeed.
Woodruff also rises to his own challenges. A former professional football player—and Super Bowl champion—Woodruff went to law school full-time while he played defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, after more than a decade on the court bench, Woodruff is running for a seat on the state supreme court, campaigning nights and weekends while he maintains his docket and his community service commitments.
You’re busy right now juggling a lot of different things, but you’re no stranger to being busy. When you were in law school, you went to night school for four years while also playing professional football. How did you make that work?
It was a grind. I’d get out of practice at 4:30-5 p.m., grab a sandwich and be at my seat at school by 6 p.m. I was in class until 9 p.m., and I’d study until midnight and do the same thing all over again the next day.
Why did you choose to go back to school and not just segue from football to sports broadcasting or coaching?
For me, it was always about furthering my education. My dad was in the military, and when he came back from Vietnam he was a paraplegic, but he went back to school even though he didn’t have to. He showed me that he had the drive to better himself. My mother was a young bride and traveled all over the world with my dad in the service. But she went back to get her associate degree. I have a photo of both of us in a cap and gown—she had just gotten her degree, and I had just graduated from kindergarten. There are kids who look up to me because of football, but that can be taken away from you at any moment. An education is always with you.
Were you concerned you’d get injured and not be able to play anymore?
No. Injuries are part of the game. As a player, you don’t dwell on it; you just do your job. I went to law school because I knew football was going to be over someday, and I was still going to be a somewhat young man. This was back in the day before the million-dollar contracts, and I needed to be in a position to continue to care for my family when my football career was over.
Can you share the fun story behind your choice to pursue a law degree?
My wife and I had been constantly thinking about what I was going to do after football, and we were watching PBS one night during the pledge drive, and one of the items on the auction table was an LSAT prep course. We’d talked about law school, so I thought, “Maybe this is a sign.” I bid and bid again, and then I won! I took the course, took the test, did well and got accepted to law school.