Impacting Your Community NFL Hall of Famer,
LaDainian Tomlinson is no stranger to running. He spent eleven seasons as a running back in the NFL. He was invited to five Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro six times. In 2017, Tomlinson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Off the field, Tomlinson is known for his heart for his community. While he was in San Diego, he helped feed 2,000 families dinner each Thanksgiving as part of “Giving Thanks with LT,” and now serves as an Ambassador for DAV (Disabled American Veterans). Tomlinson recently combined his passion for running and impacting the community in his role as Pastor Williams in the movie, God Bless the Broken Road. Instead of running for a touchdown, Tomlinson’s character encourages others to turn to God instead of running away from Him when they face difficult times. Risen caught up with Tomlinson to talk about the encouragement he has for those going through a difficult time, how he wants to use the platform God has given him, and why he is passionate about helping others.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: How would you describe your faith journey?
LaDainian Tomlinson: Like most of us, it is a journey through life and it’s filled with a lot of ups and downs. It’s a rollercoaster where you go through seasons of joy and happiness. You have seasons of disappointment. I think faith has to be your foundation to get you through those times of difficulty and trying times. As one grows, you learn more how to deal with it. You learn more how to lean on your faith and reach out to God and seek His path for your life.
RM: In the movie God Bless the Broken Road, you play Pastor Williams who becomes the voice of faith to a young mom who lost her husband in Afghanistan. What did you do to prepare for your role?
LT: Over the last five or six years, I have been working for NFL Network media and doing football shows and being in front of the camera; that helped prepare me for this role. I try to draw from my experiences from when I was growing up. This story reminds me of the way I grew up, a small church, a family-owned church with friends and family mostly in the congregation and in a small town as well. It [my background] also helped me understand how the pastor plays such a huge role in the congregation. Everybody wanted the pastor’s time for various reasons. Just drawing on those things as well as being comfortable in front of the camera, helped me with this role.
RM: Whether it is losing a loved one, a financial crisis, or personal health battle, we often run away from God instead of turning towards Him. What encouragement do you have for that person who is going through a difficult time?
LT: We can’t get through it alone. Sometimes we think the best way to get through something is sheltering ourselves or to go in our own hole and deal with it. We think that by dealing with the problem or situation on our own, that it will go away. But it doesn’t go away like that. Any problem or situation that one might have, I think the best way to deal with it, is to get involved with the church community. Reach out to your pastor and talk about what you are going through with them or your Christian friends, people that you serve with. That’s how you get through it. We all have similar stories. We should go through this life’s journey together. We all should be helping each other through life’s journey. That is the only way I believe that you can get through those tough times.
RM: Who has been that Pastor Williams character in your life, that person who encouraged you and challenged you when you needed it the most?
LT: Believe it or not, my mom. She is a pastor. Throughout my life, my mom has been that person that I could lean on and pour out my heart to at times; times when I was feeling lost and not sure of what God wanted for me on my path. She was there to encourage me and made me believe that God’s plan was the best plan for me, how to seek and understand His plan for me. My mom was my Pastor Williams even though she is a true pastor.
For some, they look at you as their hero and you inspire them. The least I can do is just have them see my faith. Not just on TV, but interact with them and have them know that I am a real person.
RM: You are the ambassador for Disabled American Veterans (DAV), which helps veterans and their families lead high-quality lives including providing employment and educating the public about the sacrifices they have made for us. What has been one of the highlights for you being involved with that organization?
LT: Just getting to meet all these wonderful veterans, people who are so selfless and sacrifice so much for me and they didn’t even know me. They love their country so much and the people that are in their country. They are God’s people, to be able to serve in that capacity, they are truly God’s people. So many of the veterans I have met are such great people. I just enjoy going to the DAV conventions and getting to meet everyone. I enjoy fellowshipping with them because it makes my spirit feel good.
RM: For those of us that aren’t maybe directly connected to the military, how can we be an encouragement and support to the military and their families?
LT: Seek them out. There are military families all around us. Even if they aren’t directly related. Indirectly, there is someone that you know that has a military family, without question. You just have to seek sometimes to find out. Then do what you feel led to do to bless that family. There is a website with the movie, God Bless the Broken Road, that benefits veterans, called blessavet.com. You can go to the site and register to take a vet to dinner and a movie. That’s what’s great about it. So even if you aren’t involved or know a vet, this way lets you bless a vet by treating them to dinner and a movie.
RM: You shared about the power of community. We are seeing more faith-based films. What impact do you think God Bless the Broken Road can have on a community?
LT: I think we can all relate to the story a woman losing her husband and becoming a widow in the battle. We can all relate to that. We all have a direct or indirect connection to someone in the military. But we can [also] all relate to going through ups and downs in our faith and sometimes we might question the path that God wants for us. But if we hang in there and continue to have faith and believe that we can overcome, on the other side of it, we can live a life of happiness and peace because of that. This story will impact people. Many people can relate to questioning their faith and not feeling like they have hope, or even losing their house. In the film, the mom loses her house. She didn’t know where she was going to turn to next. There are so many people that can relate to losing a house. It makes your faith stronger when you go through certain things.
RM: What was the scene or moment that impacted you the most?
LT: It was probably the big sermon inside the church. That was my first scene. The church was full and I had to deliver this sermon. This message to this congregation. I had to take myself to a place of saying, “I’m the pastor here and this message is going to touch everyone in the congregation.” It wasn’t really acting for me. I had to go that place. I felt the Spirit of God moving through me, talking to me. It felt so real. That’s what impacted me the most.
RM: You were invited to five Pro Bowls and an All-Pro six times. You were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014. In 2015, you were inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame. In 2017, you were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, during your first year of eligibility. You’ve accomplished what many players work for their entire careers and very few achieve. How have you chosen to use the platform God has given you?
LT: By serving in my community and getting out and doing the things that are needed. For example, we give out scholarships to graduating high school seniors that are wanting to go to college. Most of these kids are first-generation college attendees. You talk about changing a generation of a family by helping these kids go to college so that they can get an education and a better life. Even beyond that, feeding the homeless people. Everybody has a purpose to me, even a homeless person. It makes me feel good when I can go out and serve the homeless person by just getting them a meal. That’s what we have been doing for years. We even did it when I was in San Diego. We had a Thanksgiving program called, “Giving Thanks with LT,” where we gave out 2,100 Thanksgiving dinners, every Thanksgiving for ten years. It was just something I feel called to do because of the blessings I’ve had. I’ve made it to the top of my profession and all those things that come with being a professional athlete. It’s important for us to get out in our own community and serve those people there because those are the people that cheer you on. For some, they look at you as their hero and you inspire them. The least I can do is just have them see my faith. Not just on TV, but interact with them and have them know that I am a real person. It inspires so many people.
RM: You have been a football player for the majority of your life. Now, you are no longer a football player. Whether someone is a CEO or professional athlete, it can be difficult to transition when you have been known your whole life for something. Where do you get your identity from?
LT: Your identity comes from knowing the person that you are inside, like your spirit that allows you to go out and help people and better the community. I don’t think you should get your identity from your status, where you are in life in terms of your career or the type of car you drive. I just don’t think that gives you your identity. Identity comes from your offspring, my kids, who they see every single day. I’m dad and what I do for them, that’s where my identity comes from. Identity is a hard thing to even speak about to be honest with you, because I don’t think about my identity until it gets brought up to other people. “What do you want your identity to be?” I heard that a lot when I played football. We attach ourselves to an identity on the football field, but that’s not necessarily who you are.
RM: I think oftentimes professional athletes, military personnel and business people who have been known their entire careers for something, have a difficult time transitioning and can struggle with their identity. What encouragement would you have for them?
LT: We all transition at times in our life. Whether it’s retiring from a job or transitioning to a new job, transitioning from being single to married or having no kids to having kids, [laughter] our identity sometimes changes. I’m not the same man I was when I was 18 or 21. My identity has changed. I don’t care about the same things anymore that I did when I was 21 or 25. You help others, the people closest to you to evolve and create their own identity at times. It’s also about the kind of children that you want to raise; kind, compassionate, caring kids. That’s what you want to instill in them no matter what kind of house they live in or the things they have at home. You try and instill respect in them and being thankful, to me that’s helping a child create their identity. Of course, it will change as they get older, but you hope that those are foundational attributes that they hold on to.
RM: As you look towards the next twenty to thirty years of your life, what type of legacy do you want to leave?
LT: I just want to leave a legacy as someone who really cared about the community and always did whatever it took to serve that community and leave a lasting impression on it. But also, that my kids would be proud of their last name. That means a lot to me. The last name signifies the history and tradition in a lot ways; the past, the present and the future. If I can leave them a great last name, that legacy to me is as good as it can be, leaving my kids a great last name.