FS1 Exclusive: Eric LeGrand’s journey an inspiration for us all
In today’s sports media world where there’s a new controversy to get worked up over every other day, a new Tweet or Instagram photo that is irrationally treated as breaking news, and a new criminal act or investigation that whets the appetites of the masses, it’s refreshing when something good — something right — breaks through and captures the collective hearts of sports fans everywhere.
On the morning of Sunday, May 18, amidst the usual Twitter snark and shameless self-promotion on my timeline, Chris Carlin, the voice of the Rutgers football pre- and postgame shows in New York, tweeted out a simple message with a picture: "Congrats, Eric LeGrand." The photo was of LeGrand, sporting a cap, gown, and his unmistakable smile, in front of a crowd of thousands, delivering the commencement speech at Rutgers’ graduation ceremony. Walking down a street in Lower Manhattan, a mere 40 miles across the Hudson River, I couldn’t help but pump my fist and give an audible, "Yeah!"
That’s the reaction to seeing LeGrand speak at his college graduation, hanging out in the press box at a Jets or Giants game, listening to him call a Rutgers game on the radio, or appearing in a new Subway ad — anything, really — I always have.
Triumph. Conquest. Genuine joy.
It’s all of that with Eric LeGrand. The young man is doing it all, and that’s exactly what he’s told us he would do in the days after suffering his devastating injury nearly four years ago. If there were any doubters, he’s proven them wrong. In the process, he’s brought us all into his life and into his corner.
I’m not alone in my feelings about LeGrand. He inspires every person fortunate enough to meet him. His smile is uniquely magnetic and his perseverance is unparalleled. Still just 23 years old, he is doing something we all strive for.
He’s not just living his life. He’s winning every single day.
On Oct. 16, 2010, LeGrand was paralyzed from a hit in a college football game. And over these past three-and-a-half years, he hasn’t faded from the national consciousness. He hasn’t quietly disappeared and been a curious "I wonder how he’s doing these days" story. No, LeGrand has been right here, front and center, showing us all that we can make the very most of our lives every step of the way. Watching Eric accomplish one goal after another, we know we can be our best. There’s no reason or excuse to believe otherwise.
That’s a big word for Eric LeGrand.
It’s the title of his memoir in 2012, it’s everything he lives by.
— Lovely Book Comments (@MoogMeBooks) March 23, 2014
I spent a day with LeGrand back when he was promoting the release of the book and was amazed by his interactions with others. Seated in his wheelchair, with his incredible mother Karen always close by his side, LeGrand was curious about everyone else in every room we entered. He soaked in everyone else’s energy like a sponge and returned it graciously. LeGrand asked the production assistant at FOX News Channel how long her morning commute to work was. What subways did she take? iPod or no? He asked the book publicist from the publishing house what her plans were for the following weekend. He asked me if I thought the Buccaneers — the NFL team that signed him to a rookie contract in 2012 — had a shot at the playoffs. When I point blank told him no, LeGrand cackled with a laugh, before shooting me a serious glance. "I wouldn’t count Coach out of anything, that’s one thing I know."
He was talking about his dear friend and former college coach Greg Schiano, the Buccaneers’ head man from 2012 to ’13. The media tour day came and went, but LeGrand wasn’t quite finished with me. He wanted to know where I lived, how I was getting home, if I needed anything. I told him I was more than good. We exchanged information and he told me how much he enjoyed picking my brain that afternoon.
I’ll remember that day forever.
Ask the countless others who’ve had interactions with Eric and they’ll tell you similar stories. He’s the real deal. You simply don’t meet Eric LeGrand and not come away changed.
When I got home last Sunday afternoon, I got online, and found the commencement speech he’d delivered just hours earlier.
The whole scene was beautiful. Eric, in front of 35,000 smiling faces, both young and old, just doling out joy and wisdom.
"I’ve failed so many times in my life. But now I can lift my arms and move around. Don’t ever let somebody tell you that you can’t do something," he said to the crowd seated along the very same football field he was injured on in October of 2010.
"I’m blessed to be in the situation that I’m in today. If I just believe myself and I believe in the Man above, anything is truly possible. I want you guys to remember that as you go into this world. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something if you put your mind to something. Anything is truly possible."
Watching Eric’s speech, watching FOX Sports Live’s behind-the-scenes all-access feature, and taking the time to realize just how far he’s come since that fateful October night, you can’t help but believe. Believe in Eric. Believe in yourself.
Believe. That word again.
The young man is doing it all. And with a college degree, multiple post-graduation job prospects already lined up, and that smile still beaming from ear to ear, I assure you he’s not fading away from the nation’s consciousness anytime soon.
No, he’s just getting started — both with his own life and in making a difference in the lives of others.
And personally, I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for us next.