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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People often ask, "How does one stand all that rain in Seattle?" Actually, it doesn't rain that much. I like the rain. Keeps everything "evergreen" and clean. Keeps our air fresh. What's challenging is the gray weather. Give me a few more sunny days. 99 more days to be specific. 
Regardless, still love this city. Checking out Canada in case I need to move up North after the presidential election. Just saying, eh.

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Actually, we want and need this truth for our souls, too. What a privilege. This isn't possible without all those who give, pray, and support the work of @onedayswages. This week, I signed and mailed grants to three partner organizations totaling over $170,000. These grants will empower people by supporting maternal health care, refugee relief efforts, access to clean water, provide education, etc.

Sometimes, the brokenness of the world feel so overwhelming but let's keep running the race with endurance. Let's keep pursuing justice, mercy, and humility. Let's be faithful and may we be spurred on to keep working for God's Kingdom...on earth as it is in heaven.

Again, thank you so much for your support for @onedayswages! My wife, Minhee, and I stand on the shoulders of praying mothers. I'd like to take a moment to honor my mother-in-law. It's hard to put words together to embody her life but she is a very special, anointed person. I'm so blessed to have her as a mother in my life.

She was a devoted wife until she lost her husband to cancer, mother to three daughters, and later became a pastor. She became a follower of Christ as an adult and as such, led her her family to Christ. In her late 50s, she obeyed God's calling to go to seminary and be a leader in the church. She graduated #1 in her class and reminded us that it's never too late to follow a new dream or calling.

As she'll soon celebrate her 80th birthday, I'm especially grateful for the ways that she poured into and prayed over Minhee and her other children.  Even though she's officially retired, I'm inspired that the concept of retirement is not in her vocabulary.  She continues to serve the local church, evangelize and bear witness to Christ, and goes to the early morning prayer meeting at 5am everyday to pray for our family, our church, and for others. 
Jangmonim, we love and honor you. 어머니, 사랑합니다.

Someday, I hope that when my kids speak of Minhee and I...above all, they would say with integrity that their parents prayed for them and kept pointing them to Christ. On this Mother's Day, I want to take a few words to honor mother.

There’s a moment from a few years ago that will stick with me until the day I die. It’s regarding Sung Wha, my mother.

Minhee and I were at a point of transition, between working at an ethnic Korean church in the northern suburbs of Seattle called Lynnwood and launching Quest in urban Seattle. As I shared earlier, I was in desperate need of a job. I had a mortgage to pay. A pregnant wife. A kid at home. 
Then, praise God, after months without work, I finally landed a job.

My mom was in between jobs at this point in her life. She was in her late fifties, but she had such bad knees and degenerative hips that it was, and is, difficult for her to walk. My mom is like a human barometer—when a storm is coming and when it rains, her hips throb. Although my parents lived in San Francisco, she was visiting us in Seattle to encourage us in this difficult season.

As I prepared to go to work one early morning, I walked downstairs to put on my jacket and shoes, and forgot that my mother woke up early every morning to pray. In fact, she had been praying for months that I would find a job. “Eugene, where are you going?” she said when she saw me.

I hadn’t told my mother the news that I had just recently been hired for the janitorial gig at Barnes and Noble. I chose not to because I thought she and my father would be devastated. I didn’t want them to think that after laboring, sacrificing, and doing so much for us over all those years that their son had failed them.

But I couldn’t lie to her, so eventually I told my mom that I got a job and was going to work. “Great! What job? What are you doing?” “Um, I’m working at Barnes and Noble as their custodian,” I said finally.

Without asking another question, my mother got up from the dining table where she had been reading her Bible and praying. She slowly walked slowly toward me.

She approached me, then walked past me without saying a word, and I realized she was headed toward the closet. She opened the closet door, put on her jacket, turned around and said to me (in Korean), “Eugene, let’s go together. I will help you.” This is my mother.

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