Former NFL star LaDainian Tomlinson appears that much greater after his Hall of Fame speech in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday.
The boundaries-smashing running back, who played the bulk of his 11-year career with the San Diego Chargers, gave a unifying speech that twice brought the crowd of NFL legends and fans to its feet and moved more than a few people to tears.
Tomlinson gave thanks to God, his mother, Loreane Chappelle, and to his coaches for propelling a young man who he said once lacked in self-confidence all the way to the halls of Canton.
But it was the closing six minutes of his speech that gave Americans chills for its unifying message:
“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 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 L.T. 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.”
Tomlinson then spoke about what it meant for him to be mixed race in America and the glory that he gives to God:
“I firmly believe that 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 or sound 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.”
The newly inducted Hall of Famer received a round of applause after his tremendously inspiring speech.