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updated: 8/7/2012 10:59 AM

Hall of Famer Martin bares his soul

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  • Curtis Martin poses with a bust of himself during induction ceremonies Saturday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

      Curtis Martin poses with a bust of himself during induction ceremonies Saturday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
    Associated Press

 
 

I'm not ashamed to admit that a lot of events bring me to tears, from social injustice to unfunny movies by funnyman Adam Sandler.

So it wasn't surprising that Sunday morning I sat on my recliner and cried as a radio station replayed a clip of Curtis Martin's induction speech the night before at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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It was a vivid reminder that professional athletes aren't cardboard cutouts. Sports aren't their entire lives. Other elements reside inside them and outside the lines.

Acknowledging that is a bit uncomfortable. It's much easier to criticize someone without considering that he's a real human being.

More significantly, it's a lot easier to condemn someone for transgressions off the field without considering how he became what he is.

Not everyone is like us, regardless of whatever we are like, wherever we grew up, however we came to be what we happen to be.

Americans come from diverse environments -- big cities, suburbs, medium cities, rural areas, small cities and overseas.

Curtis Martin comes from one of the worst neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.

Football fans might know that Martin ranks fourth on the NFL's all-time rushing list, which explains why he is in the Hall of Fame.

But maybe even in the NFL towns where he played, Martin was cheered for the yards and booed for the fumbles while the man behind the face mask remained relatively unknown.

Until Saturday night when Curtis Martin bared all at Canton.

If you need a good cry occasionally, find a copy or tape of the surprises Martin revealed.

Like, that he never was a football fan. Like, that he hates to run. Like, most relevantly, that he always thought he would be dead before 21 years of age.

As a child, Martin watched his father torture his mother by burning her hair with a lighter, putting out cigarettes on her body, throwing her down stairs and beating "her up like she was a man."

After Martin's father left them when his son was 10, Curtis' mother's mother and sister helped raise him ... until they were murdered in separate incidents.

Martin didn't bring this up for sympathy. He did it to express appreciation for everything his mother endured to make him the man he is. He also mentioned a teacher and a pastor who helped show him the way.

And he thanked the Lord.

At age 20 and not at all religious yet, Martin visited a church, sat in the balcony and made a deal with God because he "didn't want to make a deal with the devil."

"Listen, man," Martin said he said to God, "I don't know nothing about you or this Jesus cat that everybody talk about, but I'm going to make a deal with you. If you let me live past 21, dude, I promise that I'll just try to do my best and try to live right and try to do whatever you want me to do."

Martin was told football would be a platform to help others. He used his troubled background as incentive to do right rather than an excuse to do wrong.

There are so many stories within so many athletes -- the honorable and dishonorable that we cheer, boo and essentially know little about.

After hearing Curtis Martin's, is it still possible to look down on the field of play without wondering who these guys really are?

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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