Former National Football League running back Tony Richardson was the surprise guest of Mr. Tremblay’s health and physical education classes at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute, on Monday, March 15.
A 16-year veteran who played for the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets, Richardson was named to the NFL Pro Bowl three times. Other NFL honours include being named the “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year in 2010, winning the Walter Payton Award in 2010, being included on the NFL’s 2000 second All-Decade team, and being inducted into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame.
Born in Frankfurt, West Germany, the future NFL star’s father was a military man and his family was forced to move many times. Richardson spoke to the class about the difficulties of growing up without any real friends. He was often bullied as a child because of his hair, his clothes, his accent (because he moved to Alabama and was fluent in German), and his skin colour.
Richardson explained to the students how he overcame some of the social injustices in his life through sports, making sure the students understood they could also overcome various issues in very different manners.
For him, sports was the solution. Richardson stumbled into football one day, when a friend told him that he should try out for the football team. Thinking this was a great idea, because he loved football, the young man found himself very confused when the coaches started handing out shoulder pads at practice. Being from Germany, he thought that ‘football’ was actually soccer.
Richardson comically described the first time he put on pads and how he was sneaking peaks at other players to see how to get dressed. He tied this personal experience to something that students may experience in their lives, noting “sometimes you just stumble into something and it turns out to be something great”.
“You need to take that risk. It would have been really easy for me to just leave the football tryout,” said the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer, who went on to a great career because of his courage to try something new.
Richardson also talked about the racial injustices he had to face during his lifetime – many of which occurred when he was young. The NFL star says he never witnessed racist behavior during his playing days.
“When a play got called in the huddle, you all have one objective and that is to collectively score a touchdown regardless of your skin colour,” explained Richardson of the beauty of sports.
He encouraged students to communicate any type of racism with their teachers or stand up for themselves in a civilized manner if, and when they saw something happen.
At the conclusion of his talk, Richardson took questions from the students. Nate Gerow asked him about his favorite team and if he would have liked or not liked to play for another team in the NFL. Richardson commented that he despised the Oakland Raiders, because of the team’s heated rivalry with Kansas City. He would not have wanted to play for the Raiders, because their style of play did not mesh well with his philosophy.
Tristan Parent asked Richardson how he and current players manage their finances in the NFL. He noted many players now have financial advisors, having learned from mistakes some older players have made with their money.
Ashlie Leclerc asked him about his injuries and if there were any lingering effects, to which Richardson spoke about how many players hid their injuries because of the fear of losing their jobs. Bella Lovitt asked him what career he would have chosen, had he not been able to play in the NFL. The answer? Accountant (his major at Auburn University).
The former NFL star also answered a few ‘quick hitter’ questions about the league.
Best coach he played for? Dick Vermeil.
Toughest coach to play for? Dick Vermeil.
Best teammate: Tony Gonzalez.
Players he looked up to, and why? Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin. They all demonstrated leadership by example. Irvin even forced him to work out with him every Tuesday, even though Richardson was only on the practice squad for the Cowboys and never played a game for them.
Who were you starstruck by when you arrived? Smith, Aikman, Irvin, Derrick Thomas, and Marcus Allen.
Biggest Influence? His parents. They taught Richardson discipline which has paid off in a big way throughout his NFL career and still to this day.