I didn't understand it at the time, but my mom used to always say "This is your gift - wear it well." It was only when I got older that I realized what she meant. My talent was the gift God gave me, and with that talent came a platform. It was up to me to use it the way God intended.

Sometimes I did, but sometimes I didn't.

Being an NFL player brings along fame, but when you play for the Cowboys, your level of stardom is different. There were times where I just wasn't ready for it, and in those moments I would look at myself in the mirror.

"Who are you?" I would ask myself, because even though you see your own reflection, you feel like you're staring at someone else. But I got to meet Tony Robbins one time, and he told me that when you're down at the depths, don't be afraid to look around. These are the stories you will bring with you on your way back up. Looking back on the other side now, it's cool because I can show people that even when they feel down in the dumps, they can see me and realize that everyone can make it back up.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Being that famous wasn't all bad. My first year in Dallas was the year I started my foundation, and that's when it hit me. I started to get the same amount of joy from visiting kids in schools as I did when I would intercept a pass or win a big game. For me, it's all about giving back and using this platform to be a positive influence. Wearing my gift.

Now that I'm in Baltimore, I've continued to visit schools. This city has some rough areas, and the poverty some of these kids face reminds me of the struggles we faced back home in Flint. Before I go inside the school, I drive around the neighborhood to try and understand what these kids face.

At times, it can be heartbreaking. I get so caught up emotionally each time I visit the kids, especially since my mom died in 2014. She was someone I looked up to my whole life, and for these kids, even though they've never met me, I'm someone they look up to. It's an incredible honor.

What's crazy to me is just how close I came to never being in this position. When I was a freshman in high school, we got an athletic trainer for the first time. He put us through the most difficult workout of my life up to that point, and that first night I thought about quitting. When my friends showed up at my house the next day for our workout, my plan was to hide, except my parents didn't know that and just let them into our house. Then it was too late to quit. That support group strengthened me, and starting on Day 2 I was committed as a football player. But it makes me think, if it wasn't for them, who knows where I would be now? Or more importantly, have I ever been the difference between a Day 1 and Day 2 for someone else?

I don't know if I have been or not, but I never want to risk not being the guy to help someone out. After what God has done for me, it feels like the least I could do. I need to teach other kids that those stars in the sky, they are going to be one of them someday too.

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Thomas HagerComment