CANTON, Ohio — LaDainian Tomlinson produced one of the most spectacular careers in NFL history, but it was his message of inclusion that brought fans gathered for Saturday night’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony to their feet.
After revealing that he is the descendant of a slave, Tomlinson — the former Chargers star running back — offered himself up as an example of what can happen when people are given a chance, regardless of their background.
“My great, great, great grandfather, George, was brought here in chains on a slave ship from West Africa,” Tomlinson said. “His last name, Tomlinson, was given by the slave owner. What extraordinary courage it must have taken to rebuild his life after it was stolen.
“The family legacy that began in such a cruel way has given birth to a generation of successful, caring Tomlinsons. I believe God chose me to bring two races together under one last name, Tomlinson. I’m a mixed race, and I represent America. My story is America’s story … Football is a microcosm of America, all races, all creeds competing, side by side.”
He concluded his speech by saying: “On America’s team, let’s not choose to be against one another. Let’s choose to be for one another. My great, great, great grandfather had no choice. We have one. I pray to be the best team we can be, working and living together, representing the highest ideals of mankind, leading the way for all nations to follow.”
Tomlinson was one of seven inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was joined by Rams and Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner; Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; Broncos running back Terrell Davis; Dolphins, Redskins and Jets defensive end Jason Taylor; Saints, Falcons, Giants, Chiefs and Vikings kicker Morten Andersen; and Seahawks safety Kenny Easley.
Davis recounted the story of how his life changed after staring down the barrel of a gun.
He was 14 years old, growing up in a rough neighborhood in San Diego and leading a life that put him at risk of dying. The bullet never left the gun that night, but Davis understood the turning point of his life had come.
“I promised myself I would never find myself in that situation again,” Davis said. “God had offered me a wake-up call. I had to answer that call. That night, I determined I would walk away from the irresponsible life I was living.”
Davis eventually found his salvation in football, and worked his way to the very top of the sport, helping the Broncos win two Super Bowls with some of the most dynamic performances of any NFL running back. Despite an injury-shortened career that lasted seven seasons, Davis was rewarded for his accomplishments with football’s most cherished individual accomplishment.
Davis became emotional when paying tribute to his parents, and acknowledged one of the biggest motivations in playing football was to gain the approval of his father, who died at the age of 41 because of complications from Lupus.
Taylor made the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and thanked former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson for helping to build him into an All-Pro pass rusher.
“Thank you for being a guide, a pioneer, a believer, a dream maker,” Taylor said of Johnson.
Of his life’s journey, Taylor said: “In 1992, I was at the University of Akron, just 20 miles north of here. Might as well have been a million.”
Andersen, who retired as the NFL all-time leading scorer, said he lived the American dream after growing up in Denmark, “the birthplace of famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. When I was young, I often imagined the faraway places he imagined.”
Easley, who was selected the senior nomination, played in the 1980s for a Seahawks team that didn’t achieve much overall success. But despite his injury-shortened career, he was considered one of the best at his position.
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