Seven former NFL players—and one executive— inducted into HOF, including the great Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, Ravens’ standout Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins and Bobby Breathed, spoke during the ceremony. Terrell Owens was also inducted, but he decided to speak to a crowd earlier in the day at his alma mater, Tennessee-Chattanooga.
What stood out for us about the presenters that night was the tone of their experiences and the stories that they shared. When we see these guys play football, they are covered in pads and helmets, looking and playing like warriors. We cheer for them to make big plays, give and take the hard hits, and leave everything they have out on the field.
But when we listened to them speak, we met some of the most sensitive, caring, committed, hard-working men that we have ever heard. One after another, we learned how hard each of them had to work to make something of their lives. Each had his own story of overcoming adversity and pain—poverty, crime, broken families, illness and injuries—to reach this high point of their careers. Each of them spoke in their own way about their deep personal faith, their fears, their demons, and the encouragement they received from so many along the way to fuel their perseverance and effort.
These men were humble, gracious, and appreciative as they acknowledged all of the people who had helped them achieve what they did as professionals and as people. Their teammates were their brothers and their families, their coaches were parental figures, their mothers were their heroes, and their accomplishments were much more than individual ones.
Here were some of the highlights of the speeches from individual inductees:
Baltimore Ravens great Ray Lewis, a preacher, spoke without notes at an energy level so high that he sweated through his gold jacket, despite holding a towel in his hand to frequently mop his brow. He spoke to his family members, telling them that they all were up there on the stage with him. He spoke about growing up in extreme poverty, promising his mother in particularly difficult times that he knew they would make it. He thanked her for giving him a bus ticket and $20 in food stamps—all she could afford to give him—to send him to Florida where he received the last available football scholarship at University of Miami.
Philadelphia Eagles great Brian Dawkins spoke of his battles with depression, a struggle that began during his rookie season and followed him through much of his career. He spoke about how going through personal pain helped him emerge hopeful on the other side. He shared how his anger at being called “little this and little that” became a force that he had to learn to control and channel into positive energy.
Legendary wide receiver Randy Moss stepped up to the podium and was quiet for twenty seconds, though it felt like much longer, taking in the scenery. He reminded us all that you can make a powerful impact without using words.
Brian Urlacher talked about the impact that so many people had on his life, saying that this moment was not about him but about them. His tribute to his mother—his father left when he was a young boy—was moving, as was his tribute to his stepfather, who was at the ceremony, and to whom he referred as his real father. He went on to individually name many of his teammates and predecessors, which was particularly fun for those of us who grew up as Bears fans.
For all of these speakers, it was their overall willingness to be humble, grateful, and vulnerable that made their speeches so amazing to watch. That’s a lesson we all can learn from.