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Read LaDainian Tomlinson’s Stirring Hall of Fame Speech: ‘My Story Is America’s Story’

15 minute read
Tomlinson is a former NFL running back and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.

LaDainian Tomlinson, former NFL running back for the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 5, 2017. During his acceptance speech, he detailed his career — from a weight set his mother bought him, to attending Emmitt Smith’s football camp before his teens, to his time at Texas Christian University and his success in the NFL. He thanks his family, God, his idols, his teammates and his coaches. Often, this is where these speeches end. But in his conclusion, Tomlinson pushed further and finished with a message that has received praise in the days that have followed. He told the story about how his great great great grandfather arrived in America on a slave ship and how that cruelty led him and his family to where they are, and he explained the lessons he hopes Americans can learn from his story and those like it.

Good evening. It’s a privilege to be here tonight, to share my honor and story with you. Football has given me so much. On this day it is truly humbling to share it with you. To the TCU fans, San Diego fans… thank you for your love and support. Jet fans and all fans, your cheers inspire me to always dig deeper, and run harder. At the same time you inspired me, I hope I inspired you with the passion I play with. This great honor provides me the opportunity to acknowledge and express my gratitude first to God, my dear family, and all who have inspired me, supported my dreams, taught and trained me. Without all of you and the hundreds of others, I won’t have a chance to mention, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill my vision of playing in the National Football League. All the men on this stage who played this great game understands our responsibility extends beyond the football field. We don’t merely represent ourselves, we represent the game, our team, our community.

To play in the NFL is an honor, a privilege, not simply a right. I grew up watching, idolizing and dreaming about running the football like the legendary Jim Brown, the late Walter Payton and the all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith. Today, I stand on the shoulders of these great men, and with all of you on this stage tonight. Before speaking about those who supported and guided me, the principle reason is God, who gave me my ability, my purpose.

I’ve had a very personal relationship with God. There are so many examples in my life where I envision something before it happened or knew the experience I was about to have would change my life and knew this insight came from God. For example, at six, I actually told my mother I was going to play in the NFL. At seven, I asked her to buy me a weight set because I needed to get bigger if I was gonna make it to the NFL and that next Christmas, one was sitting under our tree. Twelve, I knew the youth football camp I signed up for would change my life. At 14, my pastor offered me a prophecy that said, if I continue to honor him, God would take me places I could never imagine. Something I never imagined, standing on this stage in Canton, Ohio. God gives all the ability to envision and achieve our destiny. My blessing was knowing this at an early age and recognizing it came from him. In the small town of Marlin, Texas where my family is originally from, high school football was our NFL. As an 8 year old I fell in love with football because my older cousin Broderick Lowe was a high school football wide receiver. I sat on the fence outside the field watching him. Broderick, not only were you my inspiration, but a father figure throughout my life.

People ask me, who do you get your worth ethic from? It was my mom. I was motivated to work hard by watching her constantly confronting and conquering life’s challenges. Seeing her get up early, go to work, come home late, work two jobs, making sure we were clothed and fed. That’s what I saw, never a complaint. Mom, thank you for your love, honestly, strength, and belief in me. You taught me to listen to others, and treat everyone with respect. It was my mom’s sacrifice that led me to my first meeting with one of my football idols. When I was 12 and seriously lacking any self-confidence as an athlete, I spotted a flyer at the Boys and Girls Club. It had Emmitt Smith’s picture on it. I thought it was Emmitt’s football camp, actually it was the great Cowboys tight end Jay Novacek’s camp and Emmitt and other great Cowboys were scheduled to attend. I rushed home and said mom, Emmitt Smith is having a football camp, I have to go. She looked at the flyer and replied, that’s too much money baby, I don’t know if we can make that happen. A couple of months later mom called me into the room and said, Remember that Jay Novacek camp you wanted to go to? I said yes ma’am. She continued, well I saved the money and you’ll be able to go. Wow. That’s where I first saw Michel Irving, Emmitt, Jay, Darrell Johnson, and other Cowboys’ greats. I vividly remember the first practice. We were learning a hand-off drill and I lined up with all the other running backs. Emmitt suddenly jumps in the line and hands the ball off to me. Then later that evening I was heading upstairs to dinner when Emmitt was coming downstairs and literally ran me over. I began to fall, but he held me up and asked, are you alright kid? I answered, yeah I’m fine, but the truth was, I wasn’t. I was awestruck because of two astonishing moments with my idol, a 12-year-old kid lacking self-confidence as an athlete, left on top of the world feeling he could truly fulfill his dream to play in the National Football League.

I began my high school football career playing in Marlin, playing varsity as a freshman. When I was a sophomore we moved back to Waco. The first thing I did was visit my new school to meet the head football coach LeRoy Coleman. I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. So when he asked me, what position do you play, I answered proudly with my chest puffed out, I play running back and outside linebacker. He looked at me and replied, no you don’t. We have enough running backs, you’re going to play fullback. That was an important lesson to be selfless. I played fullback and outside linebacker for the next two years. Thank you to all my teachers, coaches, teammates and classmates at Weco University High, including my running backs coach Walter Brown who was another father figure in my life and helped prepare me for college at TCU. Thank you.

At TCU I began as an 18-year-old teenager and left a young man. What made TCU so special was that it provided academic rigor with combined Christian values and family values. My college career got off to a really rough start, the team won just one game and the coach who recruited me was released. I first thought I should transfer, but when I shared this with my mother she said, don’t quit on your teammates, be part of the solution, be part of the change. Anything worth having, is worth fighting for. Another life lesson. I stayed, and the new coaching staff lead by head coach Dennis Franchione and defensive coordinator GaryPatterson, now head coach of the Horn dogs, led us to 3 straight bowl games. To my teammates at TCU, you were my teammates on the field, in the locker room, and are my teammates for life. Those of you who are here today, I would like you to stand for a second. Thank you guys.

Thank you to the Spanos family. Dean, your family gave me my first opportunity in the NFL and now as your special assistant, my most recent. My friendship with you, Susie, John, and AG is one of the most important in my life. When I got to the NFL, it seemed all I worked for and dreamed about for 15 years had come true. And I was so focused and determined to succeed and excel, almost to a fault. Initially, all I did was practice, study and train to be the best football player I can be. I spent 9 years with the San Diego Chargers. Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer was the best coach I ever had as we won 5 division titles. Marty, will you and your wife Pat please stand to be acknowledged. I was honored to play alongside many outstanding players, like the late Junior Saya, Drew Brees, Rodney Harrison, Kurtis Conway, Terrell Fletcher, Doug Flutie, and my first fullback Fred McCrery. After Fred’s departure from the Chargers, my presenter tonight Lorenzo Neil became out fullback. A selfless player always clearing the way so others could shine. He taught me what it meant to be a teammate. I had a special bond with our offensive line during the run we had in 2006. Much of my success was due to their commitment and sacrifice. Would all my Charger teammates please stand. Love you guys, thank you.

Now to the Jets. Woody Johnson you gave me the opportunity to play two more years and they were two of the most meaningful of my career and gave me the opportunity to come full circle to mentor some of the young talented athletes coming into the organization just as so many great Charger champions had mentored me. Would all my former teammates and team staff members please stand to be recognized. Come on get up you guys deserve it. You guys deserve it.

Thank you to the scores of trainers, physical therapists and medical teams that were integral to my football career. I was fortunate to play 11 years and never underwent one surgery due in part to the team of therapists who worked with me. Alex Guerrero, thank you. A special thanks to Todd Durkin, my personal trainer. Your passion in training challenged me to achieve my full potential. In 2012 I joined the NFL Network, you’ve been amazing during my transition from playing the game to analyzing the game.

Earlier I shared the important influence TCU had on my life, but most importantly, if it wasn’t for TCU I wouldn’t have met my beautiful bride Torsha. She came to the University as a freshman and we fell in love. During my first two seasons in San Diego, Torsha continued at TCU. She has always known my heart and has had the confidence, integrity and maturity to both be patient with me to speak directly when necessary. We knew we were destined to be husband and wife. Once we married, she moved and completed her education at the University of California, San Diego. I soon realized I had dual commitments. One was to be the best football player I could be. The other was learning to be there for my wife as she was always there for me. Her love and commitment were already there when I began my career with the Chargers. She is my Queen. We have been together for 17 years, virtually half our lives and together we’re raising amazing children. Our beautiful son and daughter, Daylen and Dayah. Daylen and Dayah, our love for you in infinite. You inspire me every day to be the best dad, the best man I can be. As my father told me, I give you a good name. You represent the next generation of this great name. Respect it and be proud to share it. Torsha’s parents, Robert and Tory, are truly a God-sent. Throughout my career they were there to ease my burdens. You’re still intimately involved in our lives, as is my mother, as grandparents and residents, I cannot imagine my life without you. I have a birth brother and sister, LaVar and Londria Tomlinson and a half-sister Felicia as well as three half-brothers Terry and his wonderful wife Sharon, Charles and the late Ronald McClain. Thank you for a lifetime of love and support.

To all my family, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, cousins and those I haven’t mentioned, thank you for your love and support. To my late father, Oliver Tomlinson for supporting his entire family, he has such a big heart. Everyone who knew him talked about how much he always gave to everyone. No question, I inherited his heart. I also want to acknowledge my late stepfather, Herman Chappell who came into my life when I was 9. A hard worker and great provider. Thank you for bringing Herman Jr, Michael, Lonnie and my niece Stephanie into my life. Thank you for your love, guys.

Earlier I spoke about had God has placed people in my life at critical moments, here are a few more… Rose and Emmitt Hughes, you aren’t just a part of my family, you are my family period. Clarence Shelmon, my Chargers running back coach, you taught me how to wear the mantel of professionalism. And lastly, two people very important to my family, our CPA and financial advisor, John Palguta and our personal family assistant Mark Almato. Both of you play a huge part in the success of our lives personally and professionally.

If this was my last day on earth, and this my final speech, this is the message I’ll leave with you. The story of a man I never met, my great great great grandfather George. One-hundred-and-seventy years ago, George was brought here in chains on a slave ship from west Africa. His last name Tomlinson was given to him by the man who owned him. Tomlinson was the slave owner’s last name. What extraordinary courage it must have taken for him to rebuild his life after the life he was born to was stolen. How did he reclaim his identity, his dignity, when he had to freedom to choose for himself? I grew up on the land of a former slave plantation, and although I didn’t know this as a child, it’s where my great great great grandfather tilled the soil. A few years ago, I visited that same plantation in central Texas with my family and stood in the slave quarters where he lived. It’s now named Tomlinson Hill.

My name began with the man who owned my great great great grandfather, now it’s proudly carried by me, my children, my extended family. People stop me on the street because they know me as LT the football player, but after football, people have begun to recognize me as LaDainian Tomlinson. Not simply for what I did as a football player, but for who I am as a man. The family legacy that began in such a cruel way, has given birth to generations of successful, caring Tomlinsons. I firmly believe that God chose me to help bring two races together under one last name, Tomlinson. I’m a mixed race, and I represent America. My story is America’s story. All our ancestors, unless we’re American Indian, came from a different country, another culture.

Football is a microcosm of America. All races, religions and creeds living, playing, competing side by side. When you’re a part of a team, you understand your teammates. Their strengths and weaknesses and work together towards the same goal to win a championship. In this context, I advocate we become Team America. In sports, were evaluated on our desire, ability and given a chance to compete. America is the land of opportunity. Let’s not slam the doors on those who may look or sound different from us. Rather, lets open it wide for those who believe in themselves that anything is possible and willing to compete and take whatever risk necessary to work hard to succeed. I’m being inducted into the Hall of Fame because my athletic ability created an opportunity for me to excel in the sport I love. When we open the door for others to compete, we fulfill the promise of “one Nation under God with liberty and justice for all.

On America’s team, let’s not choose to be against one another. Let’s choose to be for one another. My great great great grandfather had no choice, we have on. I pray to dedicate ourselves to be the best team we can be, working and living together, representing the highest ideals of mankind. Leading the way for all nations to follow. One of the most eloquent orators of our time said it best in his farewell address. Paraphrasing and humbly building upon what President Obama said, we all have to try harder, show up, dive in and stay at it. I am asking you to believe in your ability to bring about change to hold fast to faith and the idea whispered by slaves, yes we can. Thank you very much. Thank you for this honor. God bless you.

Watch Tomlinson’s speech here.

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