It was like being in a car accident. Everything was fast, then it was suddenly slow motion. I was running down on punt coverage against Dallas last season, like I’ve done a thousands times before. I pushed off on my blocker. I turned to my left. I saw a white jersey.
I hit the ground, and I heard the sound you never want to hear. When you have a brush with death, people always say you see a light. Well, I didn’t see a light. I heard a noise. You know the noise I’m talking about — like when you were a little kid, bored at a family party, and you ran your finger around the top of your auntie’s wine glass. It’s that weird, far-off ringing sound.
It was terrifying. I couldn’t hear the crowd. I couldn’t hear my teammates. That’s when I knew it was bad.
I was thinking, O.K., get up. Just get up.
But I couldn’t get up. My whole body was numb. I couldn’t move my arms. I couldn’t move my head. I couldn’t talk.
All I could do was move my eyes. I was thinking:
Am I deaf?
Am I paralyzed?
What is going on?
Am I about to die?
Please, somebody come help me.
In that moment, I was completely helpless. You know what it felt like? Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? Imagine you wake up from a dream early in the morning, and you can hear everybody in your house making breakfast and talking and laughing, but you can’t move. No matter how hard you try, you can’t actually get up. You’re stuck in between being asleep and being awake.
So you just lay there, trapped inside your own body while the world goes on around you. That’s exactly what it felt like, except I wasn’t in bed. I was at the 50-yard-line of Cowboys Stadium, surrounded by 90,000 fans.
I said to myself, “Lord just help me. I know that I’m here for a reason. If you help me off this ground, I’ll change lives.”
It was the second time I had ever said that to myself.
I’ve never spoken about this before, but the first time I made that promise was when I was in college. I was talking to a young lady when her boyfriend came up and pulled a gun on me. It was a revolver, so I could see the bullets in the chamber. I didn’t know whether I was going to live or die.
In that moment when I was looking at the chamber, I said to myself, “Lord, please help me. I promise I’ll change lives.”
The guy put the gun down and we talked it out.
At Cowboys Stadium, I found myself asking God to save me again.
It’s crazy what matters to you when you’re in that situation. Cars, jewelry, big houses, Super Bowls? It all seems so meaningless. I came up from nothing. Undrafted, practice squad, released a bunch of times, then I made it to three Super Bowls in a row. I have a saying, kind of like a mantra, “A hundred dollars and a dream.” When I came to Seahawks training camp as an undrafted rookie, all I had to my name was a gym bag full of clothes, my Fort Valley State receivers’ gloves, and a hundred bucks.
I used to want a black Lambo and a seven-room house. That’s what I dreamed about.
Now, all of a sudden, I can’t move. And the only thing that mattered to me in the entire world was being able to see my family again, to hold my kids in my arms.
Then I remembered something that broke my heart. My daughter was in the crowd. It was her 10th birthday. She wanted to come down to Dallas to see me play. Now she was watching her daddy lying on the field, surrounded by teammates and trainers.
Lord, you have to help me.
When your first child is born and you look into her eyes for the first time, you feel a love and a warmth like you’ve never experienced before. That you didn’t know existed.
Well, this was the exact opposite of that. This was a cold, cold darkness I didn’t know existed. When you can’t move, there are so many uncertainties that your mind races a million miles a hour. Ten minutes feels like 10 days. So from the time that I got hit to the time that I got to the hospital … man, that was a long trip that I was on.
I didn’t even know what was wrong until I got to the hospital. After a bunch of tests, the doctors explained that all the ligaments and cartilage that connect my vertebrae had been terribly damaged. My neck was technically broken. If the trainers and emergency personnel would have moved me the wrong way, or a teammate would’ve tried to help me up, I could’ve died.
My life was in the right hands. I had an amazing team of people around me that day, and they saved my life. Honestly. They saved my life.
When I was laid up in the hospital bed with a big neck brace on, my daughter was outside in the lobby begging to see me. I was still in my navy blue Seahawks pants and my bright green cleats. I just didn’t want her to see her daddy like that. I always tell her, “Your daddy is a rock star. He can do anything.” Because I want her to believe that she can do anything.
It took me a good hour to compose myself before I told the nurse to let her in the room. That was more painful than the actual hit. That was the worst 60 minutes of my life. I wiped the tears out of my eyes and went into Daddy Mode.
But when she came in, oh man. That’s everything in the world. That’s why you keep fighting.
I told her, “Don’t worry, babe. It’s not that bad. They’re going to put a little wrap on my neck and I’ll be fine.”
She started crying.
I said, “Don’t worry. Daddy’s gonna be okay. What am I, babe?”
“You’re a rock star.”
“I’m a rock star. I can do anything, and so can you.”
She gave me a kiss on the cheek and the nurse walked her out of the room.
I knew that was probably going to be the last time she saw her daddy in an NFL uniform. That was very difficult.
After surgery to repair my damaged vertebrae and a few weeks of serious rehabilitation, I was walking around just fine and we were playing basketball again. But a few months later, in early May, I made the decision to retire from football at age 29.
Coach Carroll used to preach to us all the time: “You live in a temporary fairy tale.”
Your fans are temporary.
Your coaches are temporary.
Your teammates, as much as they love you, are temporary.
The big houses you live in are temporary.
You can enjoy all that stuff, but it’s not what will bring you happiness.
I didn’t really understand what Coach Carroll meant until I was cleaning out my closet back home in Atlanta this month. My teammates were gearing up for OTAs, and I had a lot of time to sit around and just think. One day I opened my closet and saw all these extra clothes that I didn’t need anymore.
Nice workout gear. Extra shoes. Seahawks polo shirts.
I figured since I didn’t need all that stuff anymore, somebody might as well enjoy it. So I stuffed everything into a white trash bag and headed outside. My condo is downtown, and there are a lot of homeless people who take shelter around my building, but I’m six-foot-two, so not everybody is my size. I was walking around with the bag over my shoulder when I saw this older black man who was about my height. He looked like he needed some help. His jeans were being held up by a rope, and he had on these old brown church shoes. It looked like he had been wearing them for 10 years.
So I said, “Hey, excuse me, would you like some clothes?”
He was like, “Uhhhhh,” kind of looking around like, Is there a catch to this?
He just looked lost. So I stepped a little closer and said, “Well, look, here’s some clothes for you, bud. They’re all clean. I just want you to have them.”
He still didn’t say anything.
So I stepped a little closer and put the bag down next to him, and a tear rolled down his cheek.
I said, “You O.K., bruh? What’s up?”
We sat down on a cement bench, and he just poured his heart out to me. He broke down and told me his whole story.
I could tell that he was extremely intelligent. He told me he had a Ph.D., and had been living a regular life. Then, a few years ago, his wife, son, and a nephew who lived with him had all been killed in a car accident.
He said, “Ever since then, I just lost my will to live. I lost the will to cut my hair. I lost the will to brush my teeth. There’s no other woman for me. My family is gone, and I just don’t care anymore.”
He had no idea who I was. He didn’t know my story at all. I barely even spoke. I just listened to him, and he was so appreciative that somebody in the world cared to sit with him for 20 minutes.
He didn’t realize that it was therapeutic for me, too. During that conversation, everything clicked.
When I was laying motionless on that turf in Dallas, I was completely dependent upon the help of others. It was the exact opposite of the mindset I had from the moment I got to Seahawks camp as a rookie: You’re a rock star. You’re a leader. You’re the alpha. This is all yours for the taking.
Then, in one second, you’re helpless.
I wouldn’t be here telling my story if those EMTs hadn’t done everything perfectly to protect my life. And the kindness of people went on for weeks. Our owner Paul Allen gave me and my family access to his private jet so we could fly back home. I received thousands of cards from almost every elementary school and high school in the state of Washington. Emails, texts, FaceTime calls. It was overwhelming. Most of the time, you don’t get that kind of appreciation and love until you’re dead.
Even now, when I’m living in Atlanta, and not around the team anymore, my guys are still reaching out to me, sometimes in pretty hilarious ways.
I hear from Marshawn Lynch a lot. He texted me the other day, and I couldn’t stop laughing.
He texts me, “Hey, I apologize, bruh, I left you out to dry.”
I text back, “What’re you talking about?”
“I left you out to dry on one of those blocks.”
A few seconds later, he sends me a video.
I tap the screen, and I see some game film from last season. I’m blocking the linebacker. I have his outside shoulder, like I’m supposed to. Marshawn usually runs off my back. But this time, he cut it back inside and got tackled.
He texts, “Damn. Sorry, bruh. I messed up.”
My dude is retired and still sitting at home watching film.
I’m like, “It’s okay, man. Don’t worry about it.”
A lot of people don’t know the real Marshawn. They don’t understand what kind of a man he is, and how much he does for his people in Oakland. My goal in life is to have 10% of the effect that Marshawn has on people’s lives.
When I was taken to the hospital in Dallas, Marshawn stayed in my room with me the whole first night. This dude had me laughing so hard that he was putting my damn life in danger. I’m laying in bed with a full neck brace, just trying to stay still, and he’s just being Marshawn — talking to the nurses, making jokes, being crazy.
When I look back on my life, I’m not going to remember the Super Bowls the most. What I’m gonna actually remember is moments like that night in the hospital. Just the laughter and the love, even in the toughest moments. I mean, I’m laying there in a neck brace, I can’t move, I just cried my eyes out, and here’s a guy who just wants to make me laugh and forget about the pain.
Now I just want to take that spirit and joy and spread it to people who really need it. I want to help people. Like the EMTs helped me. Like Marshawn helped me. Like so many people along the way helped me.
To be honest, my NFL career was like a blur. It was an uphill battle on an unending mountain. My mission now is to help people get off the streets and back on their feet in any way I can. I need to repay the Lord for helping me get up. That’s my new mountain. I’m back at the bottom. I’m climbing and I’m climbing, and I’m meeting some amazing people along the way. Every person that I meet, I’m bringing them up the mountain with me.
When it’s all said and done, when the temporary fairy tale Coach Carroll talked about is over, we have to ask ourselves why we’re really here on this earth.
I feel like I finally know why I’m here.