When we first met I was just a young kid searching for my identity. I thought I would be like Mike, dance like Usher, or be a fighter like the black power ranger, but you came into my life and introduced me to what it truly felt like to be a superhero.
My parents knew nothing about you and believed that having you as a part of my life would mean nothing but physicality and violence, but you brought me so much more. Through you, I met some of the most amazing friends, friends that would eventually become brothers. As we spent more and more time with you, we learned to sacrifice and lay it all on the line for each other. We argued, we fought, and we even had harsh jokes for each other, but when the time came for war we knew we could always count on each other.
You taught me so many lessons on leadership and what it can do to a team no matter how much talent and ability is present. I was able to clearly see just how bad pride, ego, and favoritism can affect a group of people. It was so frustrating at times, but it gave me another lesson that I could apply to my life. I also saw the impact of how leading with love, empathy, and discipline can be used to develop a collective mentality that results in transforming groups of people from individuals to champions.
I will never forget the many thrills you gave me. The chills that would go down my spine during those Friday night lights, the way my heart would beat before running through the pre-game tunnel, and the extreme feeling of dominance that I felt when imposing my will on my opponent. The roar of the crowds and the sound of the announcer over the loudspeakers continue to rush through my mind as I write this. I was able to operate to the fullest extent of my physical ability. When I put my pads on and stepped onto your field I could fully express my instinctual nature without thinking twice. Only with you could I take part in a type of controlled violence that was acceptable. There was nothing like it.
There were so many different people who were inspired by what we were able to accomplish together, those young and old, of every race and ethnicity, we had the chance to impact them and make them believe in something great. Having the ability to make someone else happy by living out my dream made all the sacrifices worth it.
Unfortunately, I was judged and stereotyped because of you as well. Certain people thought that I had nothing else to offer the world intellectually because of my athletic ability. Some even thought that I was nothing but a thug and they quickly revealed their true feelings whenever I made a mistake. Others thought that I lived a life of privilege because of you. They only saw us together under the lights, cameras, and after moments of massive success. We both know the true story and what it took though. We both know about all of the days in the heat pushing through the voice in my head that repeatedly said to give up, the burning feeling in my legs after running, and numbness of my body after sitting in the cold tub day after day. The memories of countless hours in the weight room and film room trying to become the best version of myself are still fresh in my mind.
It was a never-ending journey to show you that I was good enough. No matter how many plays, awards, money, or recognition I received, I was always left with the same feeling year after year. The belief that I was being doubted, counted out and underestimated. The belief that I could I never show weakness and that I had to have a chip on my shoulder at all times. Even though I knew there would always be someone faster, stronger, and smarter, I operated with the understanding that if I just kept working, one day everyone would come to the realization of who I was. Not the best of those before me, but the best to ever do it. That was always the dream when it came to you.
As I grew older I began to understand that simply striving to show you I was the best would never be enough to keep me motivated and fulfilled. My relationship with you became an opportunity to play for an audience of one. To glorify God with the gifts and talents that he gave me became one of my greatest missions. You gave me a chance to help my family by removing the load of them having to pay for my education. You gave me the opportunity to provide for my daughter, inspire my community, and much more! For that, I am forever grateful.
As I look back now I realize that being with you was never about just proving to you and to others that I was the best. It was never about how much money, awards, or recognition I could gain from you. No matter how much I attain from you and no matter how many good memories we had, I knew that our relationship would eventually come to an end. I knew that it was only a matter of time until you moved onto the next person. It’s an ongoing cycle. I was crazy enough to think that once I reached the highest level with you, it would be like the movies and I would ride off into the sunset with the end credits rolling. Little did I know, you have had relationships come and go with millions of other dreamers just like me. You come in at the most crucial time of a person’s life, become a major part of their identity and the reason why they are celebrated, and then you are gone way before a person even knows who they truly are. Rarely do any of us get the chance to prepare for your sudden departure.
Luckily for me, I understood that our relationship would end. I knew that we could only go so far together. I was constantly reminded that you were just a temporary factor in my life and not someone who would permanently define who I was and where I was going. I can clearly see that it was about the platform you provided me with, the relationships I was able to make through you, and all of the skills I acquired that I can now transfer into the rest of my life. That is the reason why I have no regrets, sadness, or anger towards you. I am at peace with you.
You will always be a part of my life. Sure there were lots of pain, disappointments, and losses, but I will always cherish the triumphant moments we had together. It was all worth it. The adversity you put me through helped introduce me to myself and challenged me to be whom I said I wanted to be. I am excited to take the same lessons of discipline, work ethic, resilience, leadership, and many other values with me as I move forward to my next chapter of life. Thank you and Good Bye football.