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A Football Heart that Plays Hard, On and Off the Field

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A Football Heart that Plays Hard, On and Off the Field

By Yvonne J. Medley

When former Baltimore Ravens football player, Ed Reed, 40, took to the podium during the 53rd Annual Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton, Ohio, the stands turned into a sea of purple passion. His message was faith, family and focus.

The Football Hall of Fame celebrations took place during the sultry days of August 1-4. It came tight-end with honoree parties and dinners, autograph sessions, a parade, a concert, museum tours and more, including a pre-season match-up between the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons. Everywhere you looked, a signature HOF Gold jacket harbored an NFL icon inside it—up-close-and-personal among fans.

The Reed’s family and fans, garbed in purple Ravens’ jerseys, waving Ravens’ flags, exploded at the sound of his voice. “He’s our son,” said one jubilant fan from Baltimore. He and his wife didn’t know Reed personally, but knew they had to be there, they declared. Reed stood close to his bronze bust likeness, soon to make its home in the Football Hall of Fame Museum.

Throughout his speech, Reed, who played every game during his rookie season, who racked up 85 tackles (71 solo), accomplished 107 yards for the longest interception return in NFL history, helped The Ravens win in Super Bowl XLVII and more, now battled tears and a formidable runny nose while he recalled his challenging beginnings in a New Orleans’ poverty-ridden area, his love for his sturdy parents and mentors, and a decision he’d made early in life to only surround himself with positive people, doing positive things.

Growing up, he wasn’t perfect, he assured. But he was blessed, and grateful for a sport he loved. He was the only inductee to begin his remarks with prayer.

Reed also talked about working together.  “Football is the ultimate team sport … color didn’t matter to do the things we’ve done. Not one player on the football field can do it without the other ten guys. There is no Goat. There is no greatest of all players … It’s impossible to say that. Stats don’t matter.” The officials at the Football Hall of Fame reported him saying.

Sadly, the mass shooting in El Paso, TX had occurred that day on Saturday, Aug. 3. Reed spoke to that, too, offering his prayers and a call for social tolerance in our nation. No one could have anticipated another such tragedy occurring in Dayton, Ohio, the very next day.

A common thread of gratefulness and pure emotion ran through the evening. When a pair of sunglasses failed to camouflage a stream of tears tumbling down Denver Broncos Champ Bailey’s cheeks, he joked, “I know there’s no crying in football.” The crowd responded, warmly.

The Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 included: Champ Bailey, Cornerback (Washington Redskins, 1999-2003 // Denver Broncos, 2004-2013); Pat Bowlen, Owner (Denver Broncos1984-present); Gil Brandt, Contributor (VP of personnel—Dallas Cowboys, 1960-1988 // National Football League, 1995-present); Tony Gonzalez, Tight End (Kansas City Chiefs, 1997-2008 // Atlanta Falcons, 2009-2013); Ty Law, Cornerback (New England Patriots, 1995-2004 // New York Jets, 2005-2008 // Kansas City Chiefs, 2006-2007 // Denver Broncos, 2009); Kevin Mawae, Center (Seattle Seahawks, 1994-1997 // New York Jets, 1998-2005 // Tennessee Titans, 2006-2009); Ed Reed, Safety (Baltimore Ravens, 2002-2012 // Houston Texans, 2013 //New York Jets, 2013); and Johnny Robinson, Safety (Dallas Texans/Kansas City, 1960-1971).

So how did I get to this illustrious event, an admittedly diehard Super Bowl Fan—mostly for the commercials? Well, as a writer’s coach, pledged to field-goal a writer’s creative juices into intriguing professionally-published works, I’ve been on a fantastic journey, too. Touchdown! But this was the first time, my love for the literary arts had carried me to Canton, Ohio, and caused my newfound appreciation for football—for the entire NFL season.

Since Reed’s 2002 draft, he’s been a heart-stopping performer, setting NFL records, but it was the heart and focus he displays off the field that allowed our paths to cross.

Reed’s aptly christened Ed Reed Foundation has spearheaded, encouraged and/or financed a variety of community projects in his hometown, Miami and Baltimore. And Reed continues to partner with another Baltimore show-stopper, who’s dedicated to the economic empowerment and wellbeing of struggling African-American communities in West Baltimore.

James Hamlin, a humble, yet bold activist, and owner of The Avenue Bakery, has a story. And that’s where I come in. Hamlin’s historical memoir, titled A Baltimore Story on a Roll: A Baker’s Recipe to Revitalize Historic Pennsylvania Avenue, shares about his mission, and about his commonality and collaborations with Reed.

Reed, inviting Hamlin to one of the most exciting and important experiences of his life was a given. Hamlin, inviting me to clock it all in was a given; and for me, it was a blessing.

So during the Enshrinement Ceremony as Reed stepped up, I gangster-leaned to my oldest grandson, Zachary Bowman, III, 12, to whisper, “I want to make sure I’m here when you make your acceptance speech.” I added, because this was important, “Make sure I’m sitting up front.”

Zach gushed, shook his head, no, and said, “I don’t think so. It takes a lot to be a Football Hall of Famer.”

Together with Hamlin and his grandson, Brandon Sorrell, 22; my husband, Robert Medley; our grandsons Zach, and his brother, Zavier Bowman, 10; and our youngest daughter, Rachel Medley, 21, (okay, maybe she was there under protest, but we wanted her to experience the Famers’ messages of passion and perseverance)—we soaked in the once-in-a-lifetime weekend.

Back home in Southern MD, my grandsons took to their respective peewee football teams. Fresh home from practice, but not smelling too fresh, Zach, still wearing his football helmet, said to me, “After I’ve retired for four years, I’ll be ready to become a Hall of Famer.”

I smiled.

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