“I love this university. I am happy to serve in any way that I can.”
That was LaDainian Tomlinson’s response when asked why he joined the TCU Race & Reconciliation Initiative (RRI), launched by the TCU Board of Trustees and the Office of the Chancellor in July 2020. Already serving as an analyst on the NFL Network, special assistant to the Los Angeles Chargers for fan engagement and community outreach, and member of TCU’s Board of Trustees, the 2017 NFL Hall of Fame Inductee and 2000 TCU graduate was eager to join the RRI to “be on the grassroots level and foundation, learning history of our university,” he said.
Tomlinson has his own story to share, one “of learning my family background, being descendants of slaves, and how I had to face the truth even though it was ugly, it was embarrassing and it was sad. But I also had to forgive.” He believes that his journey can positive impact others. “I think what I dealt with personally can help our TCU community, and that’s why I wanted to be a part of this.”
The RRI is an academically-based, historically-focused initiative designed to investigate and document TCU’s relationship with slavery, racism, and the Confederacy, and is expected to span over multiple years. The focus for 2020-2021 is on Black Americans and TCU’s experiences with racism, slavery and the Confederacy. Histories related to other identities will be explored in subsequent years.
Tomlinson, who will speech Thursday, is focused on a message of inclusivity — but isn’t afraid to challenge people within and outside of his community. “It takes true soul searching. We have to really look within our own souls and find those hidden places that still gives us pause. We all have those bad thoughts, evil thoughts, selfish thoughts — ones that tell us not to care or empathize with people. But, like you saw in the NFL’s campaign, it takes all of us.” He further addressed that in his Hall of Fame speech during his 2017 induction, giving a powerful message that has resonated for years to come, even so far as to be featured in a 2021 Super Bowl commercial. “It’s not something I ever really anticipated,” he said of the longevity of his words. “I gave a lot of thought and put in a lot of time deciding what I wanted to talk about. I always felt like my legacy would be what I did off the field: my message, the way I lived my life, wanting to help people. I’m quite honored to have it live on four years.”
During his time at TCU — an era before social media and the wide-open platforms that exist for today’s athletes — LT says that he was “so focused on football and achieving [my] own dreams” that he didn’t think much about what was going on outside of the locker room. “I felt like I was sheltered by the athletic department. Our focus was on football; it took so much of our time that is made it a challenge to balance our academics and social life with athletics.” Knowing how much that challenge remains for current student-athletes makes him that much prouder of how they have risen to it. “I’m very proud — they are showing a genuine sense of leadership within their own generation, within their peers. There always has to be a leader amongst the group within your peers, someone to set the tone, to lead the way. It’s not easy to do, you get criticised a lot, but they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”
But with a greater platform now, LT is happy to be the face of the new challenge in front of the university that he cares so deeply for and to speak on behalf of it in a challenging subject. “We all have to play a part in creating change” he told TCU Magazine. “I tell people that if you don’t care about your own community, you can’t expect an outside person to come into your community to change it. I always thought of it as one team, one community: and we are Team TCU. I hope that people take away from this keynote that it’s about all of us if we’re going to create this change.”
You can be a part of the change by joining LT’s Keynote speech or participating in any of the other activities happening this week. See the full information below:
WHO: LaDainian Tomlinson ’00, Pro Football Hall of Famer, analyst on the NFL Network, special assistant to the Los Angeles Chargers for fan engagement and community outreach and member of TCU’s Board of Trustees
WHAT: TCU will celebrate RRI Week Feb. 22-26 with five days of events for students, faculty and staff, highlighted by LaDainian Tomlinson’s virtual keynote presentation, where he will discuss his journey to stay committed to social justice issues within the larger game of life.
Titled “Acknowledging Our Past, Defining Our Future,” Tomlinson’s keynote will focus on underscoring the importance of creating a future legacy, which can be done only by establishing a firm relationship with one’s past. Tomlinson has his own story of race and reconciliation, learning that his family descended from slaves. Tomlinson knew he had to forgive, and that’s why he wanted to be a part of the Race & Reconciliation Initiative.
WHEN: 5-6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021