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.”

Wow.

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

Amen.

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.

Wow.

Here’s his acceptance speech video.

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

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13 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… […]

  8. Chabonik Sweet says:

    Curtis Martin is an amazing man. This speech was past spectacular…so grateful for his life and service.

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One Day’s Wages

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Collaboration.

col·lab·o·ra·tion
kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n/
noun

the action of working with someone or a group of others  to produce or create something.

May we hold our logos, egos, and tribalism have their place. May we hold them loosely for they too shall pass. May we collaborate for the sake of the greater Kingdom of God ... which endures forever. As we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don't forget the God behind the man. The one true God who deposited this dream into MLK is still speaking to us today. Are we listening?

Be courageous. Be brave.

Being invited by the King Family to speak at the MLK worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2016 remains one of the most unexpected honors of my life. On the right is his daughter, Dr. Bernice King and his sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. Walking throughstreet markets in different parts of the world is the best. Soaking in the culture. Listening to the local language and music. Enjoying the amazing cuisine. Meeting new friends. Praying for the Gospel to penetrate. #ChiangRai Blessed be the local, indigenous leaders for it is they who live in the very communities they seek to love. For it is they who understand their context and culture...better than a Westerner ever will. For it is they who will continue to tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love when visitors like me leave.

Yes, blessed be the local, indigenous leaders. What an honor and privilege to celebrate with the on-the-ground local @thefreedomstory team to celebrate the recent opening of their Education and Resource Center for the local youth in Chiang Rai, Thailanf. This was made possible through a partnership and matching grant by @onedayswages and The Freedom Story.

While it was an honor to be there to cut the cord and say a few words, this is an example of collaboration. Much love to the Freedom Story team including their co-founders Tawee Donchai and @Rachel Goble, to their staff who live in the community, who understand their context and culture, and who tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love. And of course, much love to the students themselves for they each matter. Finally, to each person that donated to @onedayswages to make this grant possible.

May hundreds and even thousands of youth be impacted, encouraged, and mentored. May they capture a glimpse of God's love for them.

Photo: @benjaminedwards Part 2 on my wrestling with the complex issue of human trafficking. In part, documenting my trip to Thailand for @onedayswages...to listen, learn, and visit one of our partner orgs @thefreedomstory. More to come.

There's such painful and poignant irony in pursuing justice...unjustly. One way we do this is when we reduce people into projects...and thus, propagating the dangerous power dynamic of US as heroes and THEM as helpless and exclusively as victims. So dangerous.

Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources of statistics, there are anywhere from 29-40 million people in some form of forced labor and slavery, including sex trafficking.

And one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects which is why mutuality, reciprocity, and dignity are so vital. These are critical because God never intended people to be reduced into projects.

We forget this and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor or in this case, "the trafficked." And when you start dehumanizing the poor or trafficked, you have no genuine desire to build relationships with them. You believe or build stereotypes in broad strokes, singular, black and white narratives that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.

Lord, break our hearts for the things that break your heart. Give us eyes to see others through your eyes. Give us humility so that we acknowledge our own need to learn and grow. (Photo via @thefreedomstory)

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