The summer is about over for me as I get back to work on bringing a winning team to St. Louis, but before we get down to business, I want to give you fans a closer look at what I did while I was away.
I spent two weeks earlier this summer in Southern Africa and I saw four different countries: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. All four countries offer something different. They’re all unique. It was a very amazing experience and life-changing travel for me. The countries and the continent have so much history there.
South Africa, just talking about apartheid and being able to see Robben Island and see where Nelson Mandela was held there was pretty amazing. It was remarkable to see someone who sacrificed so much, pretty much the majority of his life, for other people to have their own freedom of speech and be able to have their own dreams. That was pretty amazing.
I’d read the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, "A Long Walk to Freedom" and I also read the book "Mandela’s Way – Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage," and gained an interest in him. His life is so interesting because you have these people that pretty much sacrifice their lives for the greater good of man or their race and in all actuality they were just looking for equality more than anything.
So I read the autobiography of Nelson Mandela to start educating myself on what he was going through and what the countrymen there in South Africa were going through. It allowed me to, when I was reading it, kind of try to put myself in his shoes as if I was a leader. If I were going through all these times, would I join some of the movements that were going on? It was more or less a way to try to broaden my mind and my way of thinking about life and how I go about things.
Sometimes I think we’re naïve as people to think that Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, some of these great leaders, we feel like they had a plan laid out. But we don’t realize that they were just acting out of bravery. They didn’t allow fear to paralyze them but there was no clear-cut plan. They were just standing up and believing in something that they felt is right. As they were going through the process and seeing where things were taking them, that’s when they found their mission and the way they were going to accomplish it.
I think a lot of times, at least for me, I assumed that they had this grand plan that they were following step-by-step, but that really wasn’t the case. They contradicted themselves at times and their plans might not have worked out a certain way so they had to readjust themselves. It was more about being a leader and being someone that was faced with adversity and how to handle it.
I was reading it and I just fell in love with his story and admired this man so much that I really wanted to be in South Africa. I wanted to go and see Robben Island and see some of the hardships that he went through and what he fought for.
A DIFFERENT WORLD
Also while I was in South Africa I saw three amazing World Cup games.
I saw the USA versus Slovenia, that great 2-2 game. I also saw Portugal win 7-0 over North Korea and I saw South Africa beat France. All three were amazing games, all very exciting to be in the crowd and hear the different chants and hear the vuvuzelas going loud. It was nonstop competitiveness and the flow of the game of soccer is pretty cool because it just keeps going.
There’s stoppage in a lot of American sports, not only in football, but in basketball and baseball, we have a lot of stoppage because of commercials or the way the games are set up there. Whereas in soccer, it’s nonstop movement, nonstop game play. It’s 45 minutes straight then a half and another 45 minutes. That’s 90 minutes of mostly fluid activity. It’s amazing. You don’t see that a lot.
Watching the soccer players was great. One, they run for 90 minutes sprinting. They’re not out there jogging. They’re in a dead sprint a lot of the time. To be able to control with such footwork and such finesse, passing the ball and moving around the defenders while controlling a round objects, it’s very tough.
I tried to do it. I tried my hand at playing the sport with some young African orphans and it’s very difficult. I’m sitting here playing with kids that are maybe 12, 13 at the oldest and I pride myself on being a professional athlete, But that sport it’s just so foreign to me that it’s difficult. So I gained some respect for soccer players as well on my trip. It may not be the most physical game and it may not be a game with a lot of strategy but it’s definitely a game that you have to be agile, athletic and strike quickly. It definitely helps to be able to have, I guess, foot-eye coordination.
Among my missions in Africa while I was there, I wanted to just go to an orphanage and see a school. It was important to me to be able to speak with some of the locals and hear some of their stories. I visited an orphanage that housed children in Zambia whose parents were dying of AIDS. They ranged from first grade to seventh grade kids. I just wanted to go there and interact with them, bring some type of sunshine into their lives, even if just for a day. I don’t want to forget about what they were going through. I took a lot from that and it was really special.
The African people were very friendly and welcoming to all the visitors, not just myself but to everyone. They wanted you to enjoy yourself while you were in their country and on their continent. They wanted to make sure that once you left, they left a mark on you that you would want to come back. They’re very hospitable people. They believe in getting up before the sun and they also believe in sharing. They will give whatever their last is to you to make sure that you are appeased and know that they enjoy every second.
Food wise, I tried a lot of different dishes. I can’t really remember a lot of the traditional names but I tried wildebeest, crocodile and ostrich. I tried a game called kudu, which is like an antelope, a form of deer in the savanna. As well as kudu, I also tried springbok. Springbok is kind of like a beef jerky they have at bars. It’s a substitute for what we use peanuts for. They eat kudu and springbok and drink beer. It was really cool trying all these different meats and getting to see what locals ate, hanging out with them and sharing their dishes. It was really interesting.
The wildebeest was my favorite. It kind of reminds you of steak and they prepared it just as if it was steak. It wasn’t bad. If I didn’t know I was eating a wildebeest, I couldn’t even have told you what I was eating.
The environment was fun there. I went to a lot of bars and restaurants to watch some of the World Cup games that I didn’t attend. They played a lot of American music. A lot of hip-hop and house dance music. I was more caught off guard to see so much of our culture as Americans and our music that they were not far behind. They actually were listening to a lot of the same stuff that we were currently in the States. With the people I came into contact with, it seemed like they watched us from afar, and they admired us.
I was surprised that I was recognized a lot over there, not only by Americans but by people that live in America that are from other countries. A woman from Estonia who lives in San Francisco recognized me and had a little eight-year-old girl that lives in Indianapolis recognized me too. I was recognized quite a bit and it kind of blew my mind because here I am, across the globe, and people were still able to recognize me and put my face and name together.
We just started training camp here in St. Louis and the mood is that everybody is working to be a contender in the NFC West.
We all believe that we have a lot of good young talent and we’ve all bought into the philosophies that have been taught to us over the last few years. We’re a lot more comfortable with the schemes that we’re in and there are a lot of guys out here, running around, making plays. It’s going to be really hard for our general manager and coaches to make a talent decision on the roster.
"I know that one day all this hard work that we’ve put in on the Rams will pay off."
I try to help out the young guys if they come to me. I’ll talk to whoever chooses to talk to me or ask me different questions about what’s going on. But I kind of buckle down myself in camp and I go out each and every practice and each and every year as if I’m fighting for a job because I really truly believe I am. If I’m not fighting for a job this year, I’m fighting for one in the future.
I want to try to impress the decision makers of the organization in knowing that the position at running back is secure. That will allow them to look other places to furnish the roster and build the team up. I go at each and every training camp and each and every practice as if I’m a guy on the bubble.
DEFINED BY ADVERSITY
I feel like a lot of people that aren’t NFL players, that aren’t making millions of dollars, they go through hardship all the time. A lot of people put in hard work and they don’t ever feel they reap the benefits of their hard work. I kind of use that as my motivation.
Sometimes, when you put in the hard work, the seeds that you plant, you don’t necessarily get to see them come to fruition right away. But I’m trusting and believing and that’s just the faith in me, I guess. I know that one day all this hard work that we’ve put in on the Rams will pay off. That’s what motivates me. That’s what keeps me in St. Louis and that’s what keeps me running and playing hard.
I’ve worked hard over the last 3-4 months and rehabbed my back. I’m fully recovered from the surgery and I’m looking to not only play at a high level but go out there and not be afraid to play at a high level. A lot of people might be wondering if in the back of my mind am I nervous about playing. I’m not. I’m anxiously waiting for this season to start.
I actually got hit pretty hard yesterday from Fred Robbins, our D-Lineman. If I can take a big smack from a 300-pounder, I think I may be OK.
I want a winning season and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to a season that’s notable as a winning one, at least 9-7. I continue to have my own personal goals but I want the team to play on a high level. I think more importantly I have to set an example for my teammates on how to prepare yourself week in and week out and how to play hard through adversity.
Adversity defines a man. You can either give into it or you can take hold of the situation and turn it around for what’s best in your view. We are so young as a team and a lot of people haven’t been around the organization so I’m just going out there and showing these young guys that the only people are going to turn this franchise around is us, the 53 men that are going to make this roster that are in this room.
The coaches will prepare us throughout the week but on Sunday we have to gel as a team and we have to go out there and sell out for one another. I’m just trying to go through it throughout the season, selling out continuously and hopefully that becomes contagious with my teammates.
Our new quarterback Sam is doing well so far. You can clearly see his potential as a talented quarterback. If you just come to practice and watch, you can see that this kid is a heck of a talent.
He has all the physical attributes. But what’s going to have to happen over time is, in those situations where adversity does arise, where a team is bringing a lot of pressure and some of the guys around him are not making plays, it’s about how are you going to rally the troops? That’s what’s going to define Sam Bradford.
I just don’t want the pressure of the money to get to him and make him feel like he has to come out and be a Hall of Famer right away. It’s just the steady progression of him and learning the offense, building chemistry with his teammates that I think is going to allow for him to be a great player.
Right now, he’s fine. He’s moving at a great pace and he’s not someone who feels like he’s entitled to be a starter. He’s very humble and he’s a hard worker. That’s only going to make him a better football player.
A LITTLE REALITY
I’m working on some great stuff for you guys and you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me very soon.
We’re looking to expand on working with Athlete Interactive to expand upon the documentary we shot last offseason, spreading my view on life as a football player, as a father and as a leader.
Hopefully I can be an inspiration to other people who want to live out a dream, no matter what it is, it doesn’t have to be athletic. We have so much negativity around the world that sometimes it’s hard to really feel like there is some good out there.
We just want to show another side of professional football that the majority of the public doesn’t get to see. To see all the hard work that goes in each and every week to being prepared for Sunday or dealing with some of the day-to-day problems that we all have. We sometimes forget that athletes or entertainers are regular people.
I had a documentary film crew with me the last three days of my trip to Africa when I was in Zambia. They filmed me playing soccer with the kids at the orphanage. They filmed me doing a micro flight over Victoria Falls and we just had a heart-to-heart about my trip to Africa, summing it up.
They’ve been here at training camp, following me around St. Louis getting ready for the season and you’ll see a lot of the interaction with my family.
Honestly, it’s kind of nerve-wracking to allow yourself to open up in front of the camera and allow some people to see some things that you normally don’t want everyone to see. But if I can positively affect one young person, I think that will be rewarding enough to know that maybe my life has helped this person to turn theirs around or encouraged them to keep going in the right direction.