What It Takes
My name is Shaun Alexander, and I'm the running back for the Seattle Seahawks football team. It's how most people define me. But I'm also a husband and father, and a man of faith. Ever since college, I've been a mentor for young men from broken homes - young men, who, given the chance, can achieve their potential wherever their talent leads. Here's what I tell them and anyone who's looking for guidance. It's my playbook for success.
When I was in sixth grade, I had a science teacher named Mrs. Walton. She'd had my older brother, Durran, in her class the year before. Durran is very smart and is the kind of student that every teacher loved. I idolized him. One day she gave us a test. I'd studied as hard as I could, but got a mediocre grade - no - where near what Durran had probably scored. My eyes filled with tears. Mrs. Walton came up to me. "You'll do better next time," she said.
I shook my head. "I'll never be like Durran," I said.
She shook her head, and then said softly, "No, you don't have to be like Durran. You just have to be the best Shaun the world's ever seen." Those words clicked in my head. That's been my goal ever since.
Don't Judge People Till You've Walked in Their Shoes
When I was growing up and first getting noticed for my athletic skills,my half-brother Tony would say, "Shaun, Dad put you in your shoes ." I didn't like hearing that. My dad and mom had split up when I was young, and he never spent much time with me. Seems the only time he came around was to watch me play ball in high school. Like that's all I was. Man , I resented him for that.
I didn't realize how deep my bitterness ran. I couldn't get him - or our damaged relationship out of my mind. I hadn't seen or heard from Dad in a long time. Then one day, during my first pro season, I got up the courage to call him.
Hello? he said. Before he could say anything more, the words poured out of me. I told him how deeply he'd hurt me.
My words shocked him. "I've always felt like you're the only one who's going to be there for me," he said.
Now I was shocked. "What are you talking about?" I asked.
Then Dad reminded me about the death of his mother - my grandmother. For a lot of reasons, I was the only one of his five sons who could accompany him to the funeral. While we sat there at the service, Dad cried a lot. I was young, and I had no way of knowing what he was thinking. I just knew somehow that he needed me.
Now, as we talked on the phone, Dad told me that that funeral changed how he looked at his life and mine.
My relationships with your brothers were strained ,he said. "I vowed I wouldn't let that happen with you. That's why, out of nowhere, I started attending your games."
Wow, I thought. Maybe showing up at my games was the only way he knew how to show his love.
Not long after, I wrote in my journal, "Never judge a person because of how they treat you until you learn what they are going through."
Sometimes I think of all those who've helped me through life. There are so many: my mom, dad, brothers and half-brothers; Mrs. Walton, my sixth- grade teacher; my friends; my coaches. All of them and so many more - they were so generous with me. They gave me their time, love and dedication , never once asking for anything in return. What would I be today without any one of them? A lesser person, I know.
Each of us, over the course of a lifetime, accumulates a wealth of wisdom and knowledge. We've taken so much. There comes a point in each person's life when it's time to give back. When I started my scholarship fund, I didn't have money, just a mission to help. I started making speeches,trying to raise money for kids in Alabama's achingly poor Choctaw County. Now we've helped dozens of deserving young men from all over who are attending college. I didn't think I'd be able to do so much. But when you give - not just from your wallet, but from your heart and of yourself - you find you can do more than you dreamed possible.