Looking back at LaDainian Tomlinson’s much-heralded and trailblazing speech during his 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement, it could easily be considered a precursor to the way athletes around the country are now mobilizing and utilizing their platforms for societal change.
The spirit of that speech and the actual words expressed by LT remain prescient. But why that speech at that time? In his own words, LaDainian provides insight behind some of the key components of the speech, laying a blueprint for how Team America came about.
"I ADVOCATE WE BECOME TEAM AMERICA."
I thought for a long time leading up to that speech what I should say. What did I want to say to put an exclamation point on my legacy, which is what the Hall of Fame induction really is? I wanted to use the platform to talk about things that were important to me. It really wasn’t about my career at that point. I’ve never been a guy to speak out without thinking. And at the end of the day this was something I had thought about for a long time. We have to start to come together. And the speech was something that kind of evolved because of some of the things that were going on in America at the time and things that I thought were unfair to a lot of us. It wasn’t just about a certain race, it was really about how America should approach the future and how we should lead all nations to follow what we should be doing and the way we should be treating each other.
"MY STORY IS AMERICA’S STORY."
I struggled with the truth about my family history. If you’re black in America and your family has been here for generations, you very likely have slaves as ancestors. And if you’re white in America and your family has been here for generations, you very likely have ancestors who owned slaves. Those are just the facts. I ran from it for a long time. But I finally was able to talk about it with a guy named Chris Tomlinson, who was from the white family of Tomlinson’s whose ancestors enslaved by ancestors. We took their family name – Tomlinson. I learned so much about my family history. But I realized that a lot of us don’t know much about our family history on both sides, white and black. This was my opportunity to say ‘we’re all alike, we all come from the same place.’ We may look different and have different experiences, but, like it or not, this is America’s story. Like I said in the speech, “I firmly believe that God chose me to help bring two races together under one last name, Tomlinson. I’m a mixed race, and I represent America.”
"FOOTBALL IS A MICROCOSM OF AMERICA. ALL RACES, RELIGIONS AND CREEDS LIVING, PLAYING, COMPETING SIDE BY SIDE."
We can learn from sports and build bridges between races if we just give people an opportunity and look at each other as equals. It’s that simple. We do it in the locker room all the time. We don’t care about what race the other guy is or what religion he is because we are on the same team trying to work together to achieve the same goals. What’s the most important aspect of a team? It’s unity. We need each other. And that’s what I believe we can do as Americans – we can unite — if we all just agree to work toward one common goal, and that’s liberty and justice for all.
"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."
This is one of my favorite lines from the speech. I’m at the Hall of Fame, giving a speech, with a message. I was afforded an opportunity, and I did what I did with it. Let’s give everyone a chance. We all deserve an opportunity in life, a chance to be great. If we fall short of greatness, well maybe we still have a pretty good life. But we all deserve an opportunity. Who am I to deny you that basic right, and who are you to deny it to me? To me it’s a matter of dignity and a matter of compassion and just being kind, generous, and loving people. This was really just a challenge to America in a time that we seemed so divided.
"BELIEVE IN YOUR ABILITY TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE."
So many of us have the heart to do more. So many of us talk about what’s wrong, but never step forward to help make a difference. I know change is hard. These lead to some emotional conversations with our friends and neighbors. But until we believe that we can make a difference, we will never get off the sidelines. Team America is a concept that all people in our country can relate to, but first it has to start in our own communities. And it really starts with our youth and what we teach at home. Let’s all help build our own communities into something that we all hope for, and by doing that we will collectively bring about real change in our country.
"WHEN WE OPEN THE DOOR FOR OTHERS TO COMPETE, WE FULFILL THE PROMISE OF ONE NATION, UNDER GOD, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL."
I’ve referred to the goal of ‘liberty and justice for all’ in the speech because I truly believe that is the ultimate goal we should have as a people. If we strive for nothing else, by providing liberty and justice for all races, religions, and creeds, we will be providing everyone with an opportunity to be great, an opportunity to make something of themselves, and an opportunity to have a better life than their ancestors did. My great great grandfather George Tomlinson was a slave. I became a Hall of Fame football player. I had an opportunity. He did not.
"ON AMERICA’S TEAM, LET’S NOT CHOOSE TO BE AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. LET’S CHOOSE TO BE FOR ONE ANOTHER."
This goes back to unity. If everyone is working toward the same basic goal, liberty and justice for all, how can we be against one another? When we succeed, America succeeds. Again, my great great grandfather George Tomlinson had no choice. Life was against him. As Americans, we all now have a choice. Making the right one only bodes well for us as a nation. The wrong choices, unfortunately, will have serious consequences and will hinder everyone’s ability to succeed and prosper.
"WE ALL HAVE TO TRY HARDER, SHOW UP, DIVE IN, AND STAY AT IT."
I borrowed this from President Barak Obama because it is so simple, yet so powerful. It’s all in our hands. We have the ability to bring about chance. We have the ability to make a difference. We can complain, or we can take action. Those slaves who came over on ships, they all had hope and aspired to be free. They sang as they worked, ‘we can overcome.’ They yearned to be free and they had faith. So let’s hold fast to that faith. As Americans, we too can overcome. We can overcome the racism, the divisiveness, the partisanship, and the injustice. All we have to do is focus on unity. Focus on what we can do together, not what divides us. Focus on becoming a great team of Americans, one team that believes collectively in the basic goodness of its people instead of being blinded by perceptions of the past. And if we all do our part, we will stand tall and become one true indivisible Team America.
Join The Movement
The most patriotic thing we can do as Americans and as a country is reconcile our differences. That’s what Team America is all about. Just like the two sides of the Tomlinson family did, Team America aims to create an environment where we’re not forced to choose sides, but instead we’re motivated to stand together to determine the best way forward.
By supporting the programs and initiatives of Team America, you will be directly supporting the Team America mission and vision as we strive for an America where dreams shall no longer be deferred. Instead, let’s work together to become a country of accomplished dreamers and a land of opportunity and prosperity within which we can become that more perfect union whose future shall forever be deﬁned by We, the People.