CANTON, Ohio — Hours after he delivered what is already being labeled as one of the most poignant and stirring speeches ever given at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former running back LaDainian Tomlinson was finally able to exhale and unwind at his post-enshrinement party.
T.I., the rapper whose music blared through Tomlinson's headphones before games for the bulk of his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, was the featured performer.
Between taking pictures with guests and nodding his head to the beat, Tomlinson said the speech had been "weighing" on him for some time.
The issues dividing America, the blackballing of quarterback Colin Kaepernick by the NFL and the need to tell his own family story proved to be his inspiration.
Tomlinson said he had wanted to tell his story ever since the NFL Network did an episode of A Football Life on him, and the Hall of Fame speech gave him a chance to tell the story "his way," he said.
So Tomlinson told the story of his great-great-great grandfather George, who was brought to America as a slave 170 years ago. He was given the last name Tomlinson by the man who owned him.
"Tomlinson was the slave owner's last name," Tomlinson said. "What extraordinary courage it must have taken for him to rebuild his life after the life he was born into was stolen. How did he reclaim his identity, his dignity, when he had no freedom to choose for himself?
"People stop me on the street because they know me as L.T. the football player, but after football people have begun to recognize me as LaDainian Tomlinson. Not simply for what I did as a football player but for who I am as a man. The family legacy that began in such a cruel way has given birth to generations of successful, caring Tomlinsons."
It's his own legacy that also proved to be at the heart of the speech when he considered the cause that Kaepernick is protesting and the seemingly growing racial divide in this country.
"I have a black son," Tomlinson said over the music at the after party, referring to his young son Daylen.
So he passionately drove home the message of inclusion, unity and "Team America." It's important to him. It's personal with him.
"On America's team, let's not choose to be against one another," he said. "Let's choose to be for one another. My great-great-great grandfather had no choice. We have one. I pray we dedicate ourselves to being 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 finished the night in a cigar lounge alongside the likes of the other "LT," fellow Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, and Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. Other Hall of Famers at the party, paying homage to Tomlinson, were Marshall Faulk, Bruce Smith, Emmitt Smith, Jerome Bettis and John Randle.
Ironically, Tomlinson's ability to run got him to the Hall of Fame.
Now, after that heartfelt and soul-stirring speech, he may be asked to run again, this time for public office.
You can almost hear the chants now, just as we did Saturday night, "LT, LT, LT" in 2020.