Eugene Cho

The soul of Curtis Martin: violence, abuse, poverty, family, faith, forgiveness, and football.

I mean no disrespect to Jeremy Lin or Tim Tebow. They seem like great guys that I’d love to meet some day. (Please text me back, guys!)  They have amazing and encouraging stories that should be shared – as men, athletes,  and fellow followers of Christ. But, let me just be honest for a second and say that sometimes, it feels like Linsanity and Tebowmania is too much. It feels gluttonous.

As they still dominate the “sports news” and in the midst of an epic Olympic competition in London with riveting drama and stories in themselves, I wanted to absolutely make sure that my readers, friends, and stalkers take just 10-15 minutes to sit in the story of Curtis Martin. I want to invite you to sit in his story, his courage, his faith in God, his devotion to his mother, wife, and children, his perspective of his career, etc.

This has been one of the most powerful things I’ve read this past year.

If you’re not a hardcore football or sports fan, you will naturally ask:

Who is Curtis Martin?

But if you’re a sports fan, you know. Curtis Martin – on the gridiron football field – was the man. I knew him well

as I often maneuvered to draft him in my Fantasy Football league when I had the time to “play” fantasy sports. He was a former NFL running back that played for the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. His accolades and accomplishments on the field are too many to list but I’ll list a few of them: Over his10 year career, he was a five time Pro Bowl player, scored 100 touchdowns, and rushed for 14,101 yards (4th most in NFL history).  He amassed 17,421 combined net yards (10th all time).

In short, he was a stud and it’s clear why he was inducted into the 2012 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech – without any notes or prepared manuscripts – Martin proceeded to “bare my soul.”


I wept. I cried. I prayed. I wept. I was moved. I was convicted. I praised God. I was compelled to examine my own life.

There’s so many things that moved me in his speech including the utter pain and devastation of domestic violence. It is inexcusable, foul, cruel, and other words I shouldn’t publicly write. Yet, there’s a story of profound redemption. I obviously don’t know Curtis or his mother or any of his family members but as I watched his speech,  I thanked God for this man, for his mother, and for so many who live with such courage and hope – in the midst of such imperfect, fallen, and broken messes.

There are four  things in particular that moved me but I’d encourage you to read the full text of his speech:

Pain and Courage of a Mother

His mother (Rochella Martin) endured some incredibly painful things but as you listen to his story, you learn of his mother’s devotion and commitment.

When I was 5 years old, I remember watching him torture my mother, I mean, literally. I don’t necessarily have notes, so I’m going to bare my soul and just bear with me.

He had my mother locked in the bathroom. Had her sitting on the edge of the tub, and he turned on all the hot water and stopped the tub up so that the hot water would eventually flow on her legs. He dared her to move. As the hot water flowed up and started going on her legs and going on her feet and she would flinch a little bit, he would rush into the bathroom, take her hair and burn it with a lighter. He would come back out, watch her some more, she’d move again, and he would go in there with a cigarette and put cigarette burns all over her legs which she still bears to this day. I’ve seen him beat her up like she was a man. I’ve seen him throw her down the steps.

His childhood:

My mother, because we couldn’t afford it, she would work two and three jobs.  She tied a shoe string around my neck with a key and taught me how to come in the house.  I’d come from kindergarten and first grade almost for two years and stay in the house by myself till like 9:30, 10:00 at night, and my mother said it broke her heart every single day walking up those steps.  We lived in sort of a low income housing project type environment, and I would always be sitting in that front window because I was scared.

His greatest achievement: Forgiveness & Reconciliation.

In 1998, on Father’s Day, Martin and his mother Rochella began a long reconciliation process with his father, Curtis Sr., by renting a new, furnished condominium for his father, who had left the family due to his addictions to cocaine and alcohol.[2] In 1990, Curtis Sr. checked into a veteran’s hospital for two weeks followed by a six month stay at a rehabilitation center and was able to remain sober through his death, due to cancer, in June 2009 at age 58. The family made peace with each other in the final weeks of the elder Martin’s life. [wikipedia]

But I tell you my greatest achievement in my life was helping my mother and nurturing my mother from the bitter, angry, beaten, hurt person that she was, nurturing her to be a healthy to have a healthy mind-set, and to forgive my father for everything that he did to her. That’s my greatest accomplishment.

By the time he died, she was cooking him food every day and taking it to him. And she is so happy right now, and I’m so grateful for her.

Remember this wisdom:

But out of all the things that I’ve achieved, it’s not necessarily what you achieve in life that matters most, but it’s who you become in the process of those achievements that really matters.

Stand up, God


If I could, I really wish that I could ask God to stand up right now, because I tell you this, I’m not living, I’m not breathing, my life is nothing without God.  And I’m probably one of the most humbled.  I’m so grateful and so appreciative for what God has done in my life.

A Life Defined by How we Lived our Life

At my eulogy, I don’t want my daughter or whoever it may be giving my eulogy to talk about how many yards I gained or touchdowns I scored. I want my daughter to be able to talk about the man that Curtis Martin was. How when she was growing up, she looked for a man who was like her father. That he was a man of integrity, a man of strong character, and a God fearing man. That’s what I want.

Then at the end of the day, she could say, oh yeah, and he was a pretty good football player.


Here’s his acceptance speech video.

If you’re pressed for time, start at 5:40 –

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12 Responses

  1. Oliver Jen says:

    So overflowing with grace!

  2. Helen Lee says:

    Curtis Martin was a mainstay of my fantasy football rosters, too. Thanks so much for posting this. Loved this quote: “But out of all the things that I’ve achieved, it’s not necessarily what you achieve in life that matters most, but it’s who you become in the process of those achievements that really matters.”

  3. Thank you for sharing this amazing story and its heartfelt message. Jesus teaches us to love the people that hate us the most and to forgive. I hope to gain this ability in my own trials in life. I identify heavily with this and I truly needed to read this story on this particular night. Thank you Eugene.

  4. Paul says:

    I heard some audio clips of his speech. The authenticity of his words rang truer in my heart than many sermons I’ve heard. Good post.

  5. Has his story been published in a book? John Van Diest, Associate Publisher Tyndale

  6. Martha Alva says:

    Hola….Tengo el placer de verlo en tres ocasiones..y se de lo gran y maravilloso de ser humano que es..un hombre integro..lleno de respeto para todos..y un gran Sr…Felicidades por el reportaje..y por compartir..sus vivencias Sr Curtis…que mi Dios los bendiga por siempre..muaa.

  7. […] Next up are two stories about people who seemingly had every right to live and act in anger. Instead, they chose a different path: forgiveness. Jeanne Bishop’s piece on the CNN Religion site traces her change of heart from retribution to forgiveness. Eugene Cho profiles Curtis Martin in “The soul of Curtis Martin: violence, abuse, poverty, family, faith, forgiveness, and football… […]

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One Day’s Wages

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The Western Wall in Old City of Jerusalem (aka The Wailing Wall) - from the Second Jewish Temple.

I'm hoping to share a few stories of people that I met (Jewish, Muslims, and Christians) in the Holy Land in the days to come. One of our Palestinian tour guides said to me, "You will leave with more questions...and that's a good thing." He was absolutely right. We want everything so nicely packaged but if we're honest, it's very rare in a broken, complex world...and I can't think of too many things more complex than the situation in Israel and Palestine.

While I certainly understand and resonate with Israel and its history and its need to protect itself from harm, one can't deny the history and existence of Palestine as well. 
Is peace possible? This was the focus of my trip to the Holy learn more about the conflict and those that are working towards peace. My friend, Scott (and other pastor), Mae (our guide) and I had the privilege of going to a Jewish synagogue this past Friday. We were then hosted by a local rabbi and his family for a Shabbat meal. It was marvelous. Incredible. Illuminating. Delicious. A true honor to be invited to his home with his wife and three children. To pray, learn, share, and ask questions. 
What I loved the most was the story of how Rabbi Daniel and his wife rented a bus to take 15 of their friends to the West Bank ... to see for themselves the impact of the wall and the Israeli policies. Some of their friends had never even entered the West Bank...don't personally know a Palestinian. It's impossible to work towards peace when we don't know anyone from the other side...when we don't understand the other side.

Thank you, Rabbi Daniel. Old Jerusalem. So many stories. So much history. The synagogue in Capernaum (Galilee) where Jesus began his public ministry. He taught with authority... Pray for your pastors and teachers...that they may teach with courage, conviction, humility, and ultimately, directing people to Christ - the Word made flesh.

Speaking of, so excited to be teaching at @Quest Church tomorrow. If you're in the Seattle area, join us. A glimpse of Jordan River where John baptized Jesus. "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." What amazes me most about this event is about...timing and patience. For Christ, it wasn't about "if" but about "when." In a world of supersonic pace,  impatience, quick results, hurry and now and NOW...Jesus waited for the Father's timing. He was patient and faithful. I need to learn that waiting on the Lord in itself isn't apathy but rather an act of faith. The town of Bethlehem and at the site of the cave (aka manger) of the birth of Christ.

One of the highlights was a class of Palestinian Muslims and Christian kids in a local public school singing a Christmas carol for us in Bethlehem...just across the Shepherd's Field. Galilee. Surreal to be at the mountainside where Jesus delivered "The Sermon on the Mount" ... aka The Beatitudes. Walking around praying for Paris, Beirut, Istanbul, Nigeria, Mali, Palestine/Israel... This verse is so particularly important in light of all the violence in the world. "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." - Matthew 5:9

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