How a Strong Character Helped NFL Great Leonard Marshall Succeed

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As an adult, I met Leonard Marshall in Florida and we became fast friends. I soon realized that it was indeed his strong character that makes him who he is—both on and off the playing field.

As a kid, growing up in New York, my Sunday afternoons were all about watching N.Y. Giants football with my dad. I have always loved and played football. Football became for me a mirror of life. The game teaches and reinforces all sorts of values: dedication, integrity, hard work, winning and losing—and so much more.  As a defensive lineman myself, I was constantly transfixed by the performance of the Big Blue’s defensive end number #70, Leonard Marshall. His intensity and sheer physicality impressed me throughout his career in the NFL, Leonard was not only a great player, but he consistently displayed a high level of sportsmanship during a game. And boy, he could hit those quarterbacks!

2 Super Bowl Giants Championships

Leonard Marshall played twelve storied seasons in the NFL, during which he was selected All-Pro three times, and won two Super Bowl championships with the Giants—Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXV.  Most loyal Giants fans best remember Marshall’s monstrous tackle of Hall-of-Fame quarterback Joe Montana during the 1990 NFC championship game.

When the Cheering Stops

Marshall has devoted a lot of his time to looking at the CTE treatment of former players, attributed by some scientists to head trauma, and what they’ve endured after leaving the league. He wrote When the Cheering Stops with William Bendetson in 2010, about life after football, and worked on a documentary, The United States of Football. Since I have had the opportunity to know Leonard as a friend, I can say that he truly has a heart of gold. This extremely motivated man has created and runsThe Game Plan Foundation, a wonderful organization that helps retired football players deal with many injuries they received during their playing days.

How He Overcame Negative Comments

It’s hard to believe that this mountain of a man was once told by his teacher, “You won’t amount to anything.”  But Leonard didn’t believe it: “Since then any negative remark I hear only motivates me more. What that teacher said still motivates me every single day to be the best that I can be.” Leonard seems to have always possessed an insatiable appetite to succeed: “My drive and passion has helped me overcome many obstacles.”

Few Acceptable Role Models

Leonard Marshall grew up in South Louisiana, in a rural community of only 450 people. “It was a drug-infested, crime-ridden community with few acceptable role models. It was challenging to say the least”. He learned early on to take something positive away from every situation: “I focused on looking around and seeing the guy I did not want to become rather than the guy I wanted to be. I didn’t want to become the guy on the corner—the bum with his hand out – looking for excuses rather than solutions.”

Desire to Stay Straight

Leonard’s critical turning point came while attending Louisiana State University. During his freshman year his teammate and friend, Lawrence Williams, got kicked off the team. That awakened in Marshall a desire to stay on the straight and narrow. “It woke me up and I learned that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.” Adding humorously “If you’re with shit, you will be shit.”  Marshall persevered, and was ultimately named L.S.U.’s most valuable defensive player in 1982 by his legendary coach, Bear Bryant. Leonard found great satisfaction in this accomplishment, because his very own father—a tremendous football player in his own right—wasn’t allowed to play for L.S.U. because of the color of his skin.

Fear Stops People from Achieving Goals

Marshall—like so many others I’ve interviewed for THE COMMON THREAD—believes strongly that it is fear, and only fear, that stops people from achieving their goals.  “Fear should drive you, not determine you”. “My dad instilled drive and determination in me. He showed me who I did not want to be and he showed me what he envisioned for me in my life.” Marshall goes on to advise others: “You can’t be too sensitive. Being thick skinned is an important aspect of character-building.”  Len’s motivating one-liners make you feel you can do anything:

  • “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
  • “Forget about everybody else’s life, focus on yours.”
  • “Whatever you’re going to do, do it like it’s the last time you’re gonna do it!”
  • “Never be the guy who says, ‘I can’t.’”

Which one of these Leonard Marshall’s empowering thoughts appeals most to you? Can you relate to all of them?  And which ones will you adapt into your life? 

Copyright 2015 Jerry Gladstone