LaDainian Tomlinson used his Hall of Fame platform to send a message to the country about coming together and not slamming doors on others in such a polarizing political time.
Tomlinson personalized the message by using his own family’s history going back to when his ancestors came over as slaves. Tomlinson’s great-great-great grandfather George unwillingly came to America from West Africa 170 years ago and, now, the Tomlinson name is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“My name began with the man who owned my great-great-great grandfather,” Tomlinson said. “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 am of mixed race and I represent America. My story is America’s story. All of 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 part of a team, you understand your teammates – their strengths and weaknesses and work together toward the same goal — to win a championship.
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“I advocate that we become ‘Team America.’ In sports, we’re evaluated on our desire, our 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 than us. Rather, let’s open it wide for those who believe in themselves that anything is possible and are willing to compete and willing to take whatever risks necessary to work hard to succeed.”
Tomlinson received two standing ovations from the crowd when he spoke of the country coming together near the end of his 26-minute speech. That, more than anything, is what Tomlinson will be remembered for on this night.
America is the land of opportunity. Let’s not slam the door on those who may look or sound different than us.
Not his stellar 11-year career, after which he finished fifth on the all-time rushing list with 13,684 yards and second with 145 touchdowns; not for being one of only two players, alongside his childhood hero Walter Payton, with 13,000 career rushing yards and 4,000 receiving yards; not his record-setting 31 touchdowns from scrimmage and MVP award in 2006; not for being named to the NFL all-decade team in the 2000s.
And that’s not to overlook the early portion of his speech. Tomlinson shared stories of his younger football days and how a football camp he went to that Emmitt Smith attended gave him confidence.
Or his days at TCU, where he “began as an 18-year-old teenager and left a young man.”
I cannot be more proud of LT than his message tonight because it’s a message of inclusion.
Former Cowboys great Emmitt Smith, at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony
But Tomlinson’s impassioned plea to the country generated plenty of buzz on social media and will certainly be talked about in the days to come.
As Smith, the Cowboys great and fellow Hall of Fame running back, said on national TV afterward, “What you heard tonight is a man that is very passionate about this country and this people within it. I can not be more proud of LT than his message tonight because it’s a message of inclusion. It’s a message of opportunity. It’s a message of humility.
“Yes, still striving to be the best that you can possibly be for, not only your family, not only your community, not only your state, but this great nation that we call America.”