We all know that NFL players have truly made it. From their highly publicized lives to their salaries splashed all over the morning news headlines, there’s no secret that these men have larger than life lifestyles. From their glam mansions to their top of the line, newest edition cars, money isn’t a small aspect of the benefits of their career.
Although there are tons of American professional football players out there, it doesn’t mean that the opportunity to go pro is for everyone. The chances that an athlete, especially an American football player, gets paid millions of dollars for doing what they do, are slim to none, so the fact that each of these athletes has made it to the big time is a large leap in its own right.
If you just add on the facts of their childhood into the story, then them making it into the NFL is a downright miracle. From the rough and poor to the beaten and abused, their stories have shaped them not only into the players they are but also into the men they have become. Whether they continuously attempt to banish the memories of their upbringings from their mind or embrace it wholeheartedly in hopes that it shapes their future, these players who have survived and overcome the most tragic upbringings are definitely some players to applaud and look up to.
15. Knowshon Moreno
This former Broncos’ running back is open to telling reporters about memories of his past that had pushed him to not only help him become the man he is today but also make it so far in the NFL. He was raised by his grandmother near MetLife Stadium, after escaping a rough childhood with his father.
Until the age of 12, Moreno lived with his father after his parents split up. His dad made a living out of selling T-Shirts and lived in and out of homeless shelters. Their multiple places they called home were scavenged around the areas of the Bronx and Harlem. He believes those times shaped him and he continuously sees the positive from the negative.
14. Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant has had the work ethic and personality it takes to get to the highest and most sought out professional level in his sport. The only flaw that his coaches and teammates can negatively say about him, is that he’s always late.
Fortunately, that’s the only negative aspect to the man that came from such a difficult upbringing. Growing up, he took special education classes until his junior year of high school and actually had to deal with the emotional issues and other social injustices when his mother changed her sexual orientation when they lived in a town near the Bible Belt with a population of 32,000. She also spent a year and a half in jail for selling drugs so they could have enough money to survive.
13. Devonta Freeman
Deemed at the young age of 12 to take care of six other children, he couldn’t help it but be named the man of the house. He grew up in a neighbourhood filled with drugs and crime, but then turned his life around to become a player in the NFL.
Freeman went through an oddity of jobs in Liberty City like pumping gas, washing cars, and raking leaves to make money to afford basic needs. He made sure to not break the law on his pursuit of money. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to stray far anymore to find a buck or two. He feels like he’s finally be rewarded for all the hard work he had put in throughout his life. He always wants to give back and reach out to his former community.
12. Demaryius Thomas
Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver for the Broncos, was also no stranger to a rough childhood. Being born to un-married, teenage parents, Demaryius’s mother and grandmother were actually arrested on the same day and charged in federal court with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine basis.
His mother had her flirtation in and out of jail with possession and distribution of drugs. She said she admitted to doing it only because she wanted her children to be able to have what they wanted and needed. His mother and grandmother were sentenced to 20 and 40 years in prison. He then turned his life around after finally finding a place to stay at his aunt and uncle’s house, remaining drug-free until his career.
11. Shannon Sharpe
Former Broncos and Ravens football tight end came from dirt poor conditions to rise and become the professional football player he always wanted to be. He is a former two-time Super Bowl champion and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in a true rags-to-riches story. He is also arguably the best receiving tight end of all time.
Sharpe was raised in a small home by his grandmother, who was already raising nine of her own children and then picked up her daughter’s three children, making a total from anywhere between seven to fourteen people sleeping in a home that was only really built to uncomfortably fit four. He went through periods of hunger, lack of money, and everything else that comes with poverty.
10. Jimmy Graham
The tight end of the Seattle Seahawks has had a successful football career. After playing in only one year in the college at the University of Miami, he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. But Jimmy Graham didn’t always have smooth sailing when it came to his life story. His story began after being dropped off at an orphanage at the age of eleven.
At that orphanage, he was beaten until his eyes were swollen shut. After suffering through years of this treatment, he was then adopted during high school by Becky Vinson. Regardless of his rough upbringing, Graham still tries to display a neutral attitude towards his biological mother and attempts to rebuild a relationship. He says he can forgive her, but will never forget.
9. Jon Dorenbos
Jon Dorenbos’ career and life wasn’t always a success story. He suffered through a lot of pain and agony from a childhood tragedy that most couldn’t even fathom.
When he was just a child, his father actually brutally murdered his mother. He had beaten his mother to death with a power tool after he got angry and said he lost it after an emotional fight with his wife of twenty years. Dorenbos, afterward, turned his life around by becoming involved and obsessed with magic. He is actually not only accomplished on the field in the NFL, he is a popular and certified magician and a motivational speaker. He is also happily married.
8. Tamba Hali
This Liberian-born outside linebacker plays for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL. He had a great and successful career thus far, playing college ball at Penn State, and earning All-American honors. However, Hali didn’t have an easy paved path to where he is today.
Many articles have been written about Hali, who quoted him as making it from war-torn Liberia to NFL glory. He was only a kid when civil war plagued the country. At the age of nine, he recalls seeing dead bodies around the town and his mother and family were forced to flee the country. They found refuge in Ivory Coast, and through his father’s connections, got Visas to go to the U.S. The rest, of course, is history.
7. Tyrann Mathieu
Safety for the Arizona Cardinals, Mathieu bounced from LSU and was actually famous for his turnovers. He got the name “honey badger”. He was an All-American and received the award for the best defensive player in college football, and was a finalist for the Heisman but was later kicked off the team in his last year before taking off a year of football.
However troubled he might have been, he definitely would never forget his troubled childhood. His father was never in his life being incarcerated for murder, and Mathieu’s mother wasn’t around. He lived with his grandparents until his grandfather’s death from illness. Then his aunt and uncle adopted Mathieu and changed his life around. He is forever grateful to them.
6. Lorenzo Mauldin
An outside linebacker for the New York Jets, Mauldin played at Louisville before he got his opportunity to play in the NFL. He has also a tragic history of a childhood with a series of changed hands. Malden lived with sixteen different foster parents during his youth, because both of his biological parents were incarcerated.
He was the subject of bullying during his teenage years and got in a lot of fights just because of the clothes he wore: tattered jeans, broken shoes barely put together with duct tape, and would wear the same clothes, a lot. His mother was an alcoholic and drug dealer, and his father wasn’t around, as well, so he and his four siblings were all placed in foster care since the age of two.
5. Adrian Peterson
Arizona Cardinals’ running back Adrian Peterson played football at Oklahoma before being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. He also had the freshman rushing record with 1,925 yards during his first season in college, and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, on top of a lot of other awards and highlights during his amazing career.
However, Peterson started off as a young child going through something that no person should ever have to go through. When he was just seven years old, his 9-year-old brother Brian was killed by a drunk driver. Adrian actually witnessed the murder, watching his brother on his bicycle. He was also thirteen when his father was arrested for laundering money for a crack cocaine ring.
4. Donald Driver
This former NFL wide receiver survived a rough childhood to become a bestselling author, Dancing with the Stars Champion, and has the record for the most career receptions and receiving yards at the Packers. He went through his rough childhood to pay it forward. He holds the Donald Driver Football Camp that is for the kids in the nearby area.
When he was younger, he lived out of a U-Haul trailer. His father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Driver was homeless and always moving. His mother’s boyfriend had pulled a gun on Driver and he was then quickly moved to his grandparents home. He had written a book talking about his life, playing off his surname, he titled the book “Driven”.
3. Edgerrin James
Edgerrin Tyree James played for the Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts. and Seattle Seahawks, and also played for the University of Miami. He is no stranger to many awards and highlights from his football career. He was inducted into the collegiate Hall of Fame in Miami.
However, James’ story wasn’t always smooth sailing. He grew up in poor Immokalee in a really bad neighborhood. His city actually had the highest rate of AIDS per capita in the state of Florida. He came from a large family and his father never really played a major role in life. He watched his grandfather die, and watched as some family members succumbed to the bad parts of the poor neighborhood. His family couldn’t afford adequate housing most of the time, as well. He would actually sell crack but didn’t abuse them himself, just to make money.
2. Barry Switzer
Former coach and player for the University of Oklahoma, the Dallas Cowboys and the University of Arkansas. His mother, unfortunately, was also a reason for his tragic upbringing. She popped pills and was an alcoholic. But the substance abuse didn’t stop there. His father was also an alcoholic and abusive bootlegger.
During his childhood, they didn’t have electricity and running water most of the time, and his father ended up going to prison. Then, later on, his mother committed suicide after his father told her that he couldn’t bear to see her anymore. Later, after her suicide, his father was then kismet and killed by his lover. He might have gotten into trouble later on in life, but his upbringing definitely gave him a hard time to succeed. Fortunately, he overcame that.
1. Michael Oher
The story that gripped the nation, and even the world when it was spread across the big screen starring Sandra Bullock, Michael Oher’s childhood story, and upbringing is well known. Presently, he is a free agent, but as the film, The Blindside, shows, Oher received a full scholarship for the University of Mississippi, was drafted to the Baltimore Ravens, and also has played for the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers.
His childhood was a rough one. After being taken from his mother, and not seeing his brother for a long time, he was living on his own for a while before being adopted by the Oher’s. He was the subject of not only the movie but first the book by Michael Lewis.
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