The NFL has a habit of producing massive, household names and timeless moments that stay in fans’ memories forever. Many NFL players have started from humble beginnings to create legacies that transcend the sport itself. Sports, in general, can help lift people out of poverty and out of desperate situations. The NFL isn’t any different in this regard. Much like soccer in the UK, NFL is a sport predominantly played by people from poorer backgrounds. You don’t have to look far for underdog stories in the NFL world.
The first player we’re going to take a look at today is Javon Kinlaw. He is one of several 2020 first-round NFL picks yet to prove themselves in the league. Whatever happens in Kinlaw’s career, even if he goes on to lift the Super Bowl, his greatest achievement will be proving all the doubters wrong and managing to pull himself and his family out of poverty.
His family moved from Trinidad and Tobago to the United States so Kinlaw could pursue his dreams. Throughout his youth, he was homeless and got by without key essentials such as running water and electricity. For him to go from a house with no running water to the highest levels of the NFL shows just how much determination and character this young man has. This underdog story is something to behold, and this special rise to the world’s finest football league deserved mention on our list.
Darnell Dockett had a seriously rough upbringing. When the Arizona Cardinals legend was just 13 years old, he discovered his mother’s body in his home, after she had been murdered. Just four months later, his father died of cancer. His uncle then raised him. These tragic stories would have been enough to set anyone back in their early career. For someone with the character and strength of Dockett, though, it only seemed to spur him on. He not only went on to have an incredibly successful NFL career but he was also a champion in the community during his decade-long spell in Arizona.
Jimmy Graham, the ex-Seattle Seahawks star, is a man of many talents. Initially starting in professional basketball, Graham switched to the NFL relatively late in his career. However, he didn’t look back after being bought on a rookie contract by the New Orleans Saints in 2010. After eye-opening performances for the Saints, he ended up at the Seattle Seahawks.
Despite only being there from 2015 to 2017, Graham set the Seahawks franchise record for the most receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns at the tight end position. The money, success and admiration he earned were a far cry from his earlier years. Graham was abandoned by his mother at the age of 9 and lived in a group home with other unfortunate children. He was regularly beaten and bullied in the home, which caused one of the workers to adopt him and take him under their wing. Graham now gives a lot back to his community and has set up foundations to help underprivileged children, truly showing the measure of the man.
Much has been made of Michael Oher’s story. The Baltimore Ravens hero has had a blockbuster film (The Blind Side) made about him that detailed his underdog story. The Blind Side is just one of many inspiring sports films, plenty of which contain iconic quotes. Despite his father being in and out of prison and his mother struggling with addiction, Oher went on to achieve great things as an NFL star.
Even early on, as he battled with his home life, he also struggled in school, and it wasn’t until his adoptive family hired a tutor that his grades began to improve. Michael’s tale is a heartwarming one, and much like the other individuals in this article, the determination and drive he showed are awe-inspiring.
Terrell Owens is considered one of the greatest wide receivers of all time. However, he didn’t have an easy time in his youth. His father was absent, and Owens suffered from abandonment issues. He later learned that his father had started a new family and lived over the road from him. Raising him in a single-parent household, Terrell’s mother had to work tirelessly to ensure he was fed. These struggles didn’t define Terrell; he went on to have one of the greatest of NFL careers. Following his retirement, he has also been seen numerous times on television, on shows such as The Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.