The NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony is generally a chance for the greatest players to ever lace them up to remind you how great they are. For former Frog LaDainian Tomlison Saturday night, it was about so much more than that.
LT’s speech was universally lauded, and if you didn’t get to watch it in full, be sure to catch a replay on NFL.com. But, at the very least, check out the last five minutes or so. Tomlinson told a moving and powerful story about his great-great-great grandfather, in which his ancestor was sold into slavery and given the last name of his owner before making a life for himself. LaDainian himself grew up on the very land his ancestor once tilled, now known as Tomlinson Hill, and spoke to the legacy of his last name and what it means to carry and represent it. He talked about his story, of carrying both the slave and the slave owner’s DNA, as being America’s story and then challenged America to remember that we are on the same team, and to play FOR, not AGAINST, each other. It was perfect and beautiful and moving, and you should watch it.
We are unable to embed the video at this time (thanks, NFL Network!), but you can watch the speech in full here. It’s worth your time, I promise. You can also read the transcript of the final five minutes below (via FTW and USA Today):
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’ve never met, my great-great-great grandfather George. 170 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 into was stolen. How did he reclaim his identity, his dignity, when he had no 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 is where my great-great-great grandfather tilled the soil. A few years ago, I visited that same plantation 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 L.T. the football player, but after football, people have begun to recognize me as LaDanian 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 God chose me to help bring two races together under one last name, Tomlinson. I’m of mixed race, and I represent America. My story is America’s story. All our ancestors, unless we’re American Indian, came from another 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 toward the same goal, to win a championship. In this context, I advocate we become Team America.
In sports, we’re evaluated on our desire, ability and given a chance to compete. America is the land of opportunity. Let’s not slam the door on those who may look different from us. Rather, let’s open it wide for those who believe in themselves, that anything is possible, and are willing to compete and take whatever risks are 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 one. I pray we 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 all 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 in the idea whispered by slaves. “Yes, we can.”
Thanks LT, for what you did for TCU during your playing days, what you helped build once you left, and the way you continue to represent the entirety of Frog Nation today. Tonight is just another example of how the man you are off the field eclipses the player you were on it.