LT goes one-on-one with former NFL fullback Lorenzo Neal
MAY 31, 2013 4:02p ET
|Since retiring from the NFL, LT works with kids to build character and increase performance on the field and in the classroom through his LT Preparatory Academy. He also devotes time to The Tomlinson Touching Lives Foundation and is the Founder of the 1st Down Club of Northwest Texas. He serves as an ambassador for the After-School All-Stars organization and is an analyst for the NFL Network. For more information on LT's impact in the community, visit http://lt-academy.com.|
LaDainian Tomlinson goes one-on-one with former NFL fullback Lorenzo Neal. LT catches up with his former San Diego Chargers teammate on what he has been doing since retiring from the NFL in an exclusive interview with FOXSportsSouthwest.com
LaDainian Tomlinson: How have you been spending your time away from the game? Do you miss playing football?
Lorenzo Neal: I've become the "jack of all trades, master of none."
I'm working on a project with StreetStrider, the elliptical machine inside the SkyMall (shopping magazine). It's an elliptical machine that you ride outdoors. I'm really pushing that company and also working with Comcast SportsNet.
I work with the [ Oakland] Raiders and [ San Francisco] 49ers on the pregame and postgame shows in the Bay Area and also work with FOX Sports Radio.
Honestly, I'm staying busy and also focused on being a father and a husband…and trying to stay close to the game. The game was so good (and dear) to me, I'm definitely always going to stay around the game.
LT: What are your thoughts on the new NFL helmet rule? Do you feel it changes the game?
LN: I look at the system that we have, and I understand the helmet rule, but the biggest thing is that we (as NFL players) knew what we were getting into (when we chose the profession).
I think if players and owners would come to together and say, "Look, this can cause this," and show the trial and error, and agree that a safety violation can hurt and potentially cause Alzheimer's, then guys can sign it.
I think the biggest thing the NFL did was disassociate from the core fact that it can cause damage. If you come out and say, "This can cause this, it does cause this and players have to be willing to do this and understand that," then so be it.
Everyone should understand that it's a tough and violent game.
The way that I blocked, I used my head first all the time, but now running backs can't lead with their helmet. I think the helmet protects people. More injury and trauma is caused if you run with your head up because your neck is not protected.
I'm not happy with this, but I understand the bureaucracy and everything going on with workers' comp and players' safety, there's a shift in power.
In our lifetime, the kickoff return might become eliminated. I see so many injuries are happening, which is why they've shortened the kickoff…in an attempt to protect the players.
But (NFL) players understand this is a violent game. I wish there was some way we could say, "Look, we understand what we're getting into and what we're playing for and we understand what comes with it."
I'm really not happy with this. I'm a strong proponent in safety, but some of the safety measures I don't think are going to work.
LT: What would you tell President Obama after he stated his concerns about safety in football and his doubts about letting a son play the game?
LN: I think that it's perception versus reality. Perception is that every guy is going to be brain dead with brain trauma.
You look at boxing…Floyd Mayweather, for example. No, he doesn't get hit, but think of all the celebrities that are there. Think about the people watching UFC, which is one of the fastest growing sports in America. Guys are getting their legs broken and getting punched in the head. You look at different boxers who have Alzheimer's and Parkinson's because of all the different trauma.
I would tell lawmakers that we chose this profession and that it's no different than a young man enlisted in our great military, fighting a war to keep us safe. Because our freedom is no longer free.
It's no different than a fireman, running into a burning building. It's no different from police officers running towards the gunshots/fight.
We should be careful how we paraphrase and use sports to demonize a physical game by saying, "I don't want people to play it."
It's wrong because sports has brought this country together. Sport is the melting pot that allows whites, blacks, Italians to come together for 60 minutes (in football) nine innings (in baseball), etc.. It's a place where we can be the same.
I think when people think about what sports have done and what the military has done, both have brought this country together. I think it's ludicrous to get rid of sports. Sports has been the basic foundation for this country. Before blacks were able to walk in bathrooms, they were able to play on the field with equal opportunity.
I make that correlation because people are trying to demonize something that's been so great and is such a great pastime. For all the people that are having problems and going through things, when they walk into that stadium and watch No. 21 [LT] and chant, "LT! LT!"…they weren't worried about concussions. They were worried about watching a man for 60 minutes; a Hall of Famer giving everything he's got!
LT: Talk about your wrestling career in college…is it true you won a sumo wrestling match in Japan?
LN: My dad was raised on a farm…so growing up, we had to wrestle with hogs. If I wanted to eat, I had to wrestle hogs and cows.
I began wrestling at a young age and also playing football. In high school, I was a four-time Valley wrestling champ in the state of California. I went on to college and competed in both sports at Fresno State. I was able to wrestle, become an All-American (ranked No. 3 in the nation) and place seventh in the NCAA tournament.
In wrestling, it's just you and another man, one-on-one, and it's such a grind. It's a rush…you're on fire…you're burning.
Playing both sports helped me tremendously with my center of gravity and balance.
LT: How did the sumo wrestling match (in Japan) happen?
LN: I played in the Japan Bowl and was able to experience the culture, while I was there. We were able to showcase American football to the Japanese, and also had the opportunity to witness how huge sumo wrestling is in Japan.
As an American wrestler, I was given the opportunity to attempt sumo wrestling. I was wrapped in a fabric thong and spun around. (It was pretty interesting!) I was given a nice tug (on the loin cloth) before stepping into the ring and thought to myself, "OK, I don't know if I want to be out here (for very) long."
I went through three wrestlers and then faced the big boy, Akebono. (Akebono was the sumo champion at the time.) It wasn't fun and it didn't go well. Akebono hit me a couple of times in the throat, so I quickly jumped out of the ring and stated that I would stick to playing football.
LT: Why did you study criminal justice? And, if you hadn't played in the NFL, where would your career path have lead you?
LN: I wanted to open group homes for children, but because of legal reasons, I couldn't. So, I decided to find other ways to work with kids.
I'm involved with First 5 and Big Brothers Big Sisters in Fresno and in the Valley. I also work with CASA, which is a mentoring program that helps young men and women.
I'm still involved with our youth, because they are our future. (I don't believe there are bad people in the world; I believe people make bad decisions.) As adults and leaders we must work to influence our youth, especially in a constantly moving world, we have to lend a hand.
It's my passion to work with our youth to create opportunities to influence their lives.
LT: You're very active on social media. Who do you follow on Twitter and how many followers do you have?
LN: I follow Michael Strahan. Believe it or not, I follow politics…I follow Obama and other political guys. I follow Oprah. I follow basketball players; any athlete, I try to follow. Sometimes I follow young inspiring football players, young writers and young talent, also Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way. I enjoy Twitter and myself have about 20,000 followers.
LT: How was it to see your friend (and former teammate) Ray Lewis go out on top in the Super Bowl? Have you talked to him since?
LN: I spoke to Ray a couple of weeks ago. He wanted me to go to Atlanta to his retirement party, but it's tough when you have children. I wasn't able to attend his retirement, but I sent flowers to let him know that I was with him at heart.
It was phenomenal to see him go out on top. Before each game he would say, "You know what Lo, watch God." It's interesting that his belief and his faith led him every week to give praise before and after every game.
I remember when the Ravens beat Denver, he said, "Lo, people don't know, it's our time." At the time, I thought to myself that it's hard to play in Denver, but Ray knew they were going to win. The following week in New England he said, "They can't beat us if we play the way we can, and I've got these guys ready." Then he said, "Lo, I'm telling you…we're working and we're working in a different space."
And I said, "OK Ray." You know, he's very animated and he could sell ice to an Eskimo. His belief became so infectious to his teammates.
I don't think the Ravens were the better team, but on that particular day, they played the best. You look at the [San Francisco] 49ers and their receivers and linebackers and the young speed, but they [the Ravens] were able to persevere. I think Ray had a huge impact on his peers. He's always been a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve and he went out like a champion.
LT: Did you always have a close relationship with the guys you blocked for, and was that important in being successful on the field?
LN: I think you have to (have a close relationship). When I met you from afar playing against you when I was in Cincinnati, I thought, "Man, this guy is tough," and talking to Corey Dillon said, "This guy is going to be good."
Most running backs have not an arrogance, but they have a swagger about themselves, at least the great ones do. I remember saying (to you) that you're going to be tough. And, I remember you saying to me, "Don't tell me that. I want you to be the judge of that when I'm finished writing my book."
It's interesting because sometimes you see people play and you say, "OK, they're a good player." But, you get a different perspective when you play with someone (in the trenches) and get to see the kind of man he is.
Sometimes you watch how they train and prepare for games, like Eddie George. He worked hard…he wasn't just athletically gifted. Corey Dillon, is a guy who came in and started working harder, he was a little more raw, but didn't just say he was going to be a student of the game. I watched different guys grow and mature.
Everyone talks about how Lorenzo was just a great blocking fullback, but I said, "I don't get credit for being a genius." I went and blocked for great running backs, it's those guys who made me successful.