How my journey can teach you how to unlock your dreams

To: Young People

From: Leonard Marhsall (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To young people,

In 1995, when my daughter was born, I gave up football. I quit the sport that I loved while playing at the level I dreamed about as a young boy in Franklin, Louisiana.

At nine years old, my dad and I were watching the Cowboys vs. Steelers play.

I told him, “One day you are going to watch me play on TV. You are not going to believe it’s your son because I am going to play so well.”

Leonard grew up in Franklin, Louisiana

From that day forward, I tried to be the best at every sport I played. I tried to seek the best coaching. I ran around with older kids, who taught me discipline. And I pursued life focused on my future success.

However, along my journey, I faced plenty of challenges that could have gotten in my way.

When I was in second grade,  they desegregated schools. I transferred to W.P. Foster Elementary School, where I attended school with white kids. We couldn’t use the same bathrooms. Rarely did we play together during recess.

I pursued life focused on my future success.

One day in high school, I was walking home with three or four of my friends, who were black kids. Two guys pulled up behind us in a pickup truck with shotguns. They were yelling explicit language, N-bombs here and N-bombs there along with a whole bunch of put-downs.

We were pissed off. The next day at school, my friends decided to take it out on other kids, stealing their lunch money, beating them up and smashing their eyeglasses.

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Finally, I told my friends to cut it out. I explained that their behavior only created a deeper problem and a deeper hatred. We would only end up disliking the white kids more and the white kids would end up disliking us more.

I tried to be a leader and encouraged everyone to respect each other. Regardless of what anyone decided, I knew I was going to do what was right.

I knew if I wanted to be great in life, ignorance would get me nowhere. Violence would be my worst enemy. So, I found ways to adapt to various cultures, people and religions. With that philosophy in mind, I chose to go to Louisiana State, where I received a scholarship to play football, as opposed to an HBC school.

In college, there were plenty of distractions. To make it to the next level, I had to make good decisions. One bad decision could derail my whole future, which happened to my roommate. He missed curfew because he chose to stay outside and argue with his girlfriend, instead of coming back to the dorm and dealing with the problem the next day. He got kicked off the team and never reached his goals in football.

Leonard focused his childhood on becoming an NFL player

However, I chose to follow the rules. During my four-year career at LSU, I had 180 tackles and five sacks. In my senior year, I was named the team’s Defensive Most Valuable Player.

In 1983, just like imagined when I was a young boy, I made it to the NFL. The New York Giants drafted me in the second round with the 37th overall pick. Getting drafted was crazy. It changed my whole life. I bought my parents a house and a car and I gave them a nice fat check. Everything a kid could do for his parents, I tried to do.

However, even once I got to the NFL, I had to be focused and know my worth. In 1990,  I held out of training camp and almost all of the preseason. Even though I was one of the best players in the league at my position, the Giants didn’t want to pay me. I knew if I didn’t get my money then, I was never going to get it. And I knew the team needed me to win.

Leonard played 12 seasons in the NFL

Sitting out was painful. I hated doing it. Ultimately, I got paid my money, but Bill Parcells had a vendetta against me. He wouldn’t start me, which affected potentially record-setting stats. I was disappointed, but I remained ready by continuing to show up and put in the work. Finally, in week 13, after we lost our  Monday night game against San Francisco, everyone realized they needed me. I got my job back and we went on to win the Super Bowl, which was my second of two championships.

Today, I battle depression and memory loss, among other symptoms because of CTE, which is a result of the head injuries I endured playing football. However, I don’t regret playing football and I am proud of what I accomplished.

I am telling you all this because you are all pursuing your own goals. You weren’t there for my football journey, but there is so much you can learn from it.

I want you to understand how you put your pants on every morning, in terms of your attitude,  determines the outcome of your day, regardless of the challenges you face.

A lot of people told me I couldn’t do shit, but I worked hard, and I shut a lot of them up.

Success starts with you. You can do no more than you believe you can. At nine years old, I believed I would become an NFL player, and that belief created opportunity and helped me navigate decisions and obstacles throughout my life.

Every success comes at a cost. CTE was the price I ended up having to pay.

Thinking back,  I should have played a little longer instead of quitting . But when my daughter came into this world I no longer wanted to be the best football player, I wanted to be the best father.  And even today, my focus is no longer to live out the dreams I imagined as a child, but rather to see all of you live out yours.

Your future is yours,

Leonard Marhsall
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