Rodney McLeod was the Eagles’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, presented by Nationwide. He shares in his own words what he learned over the past year in the fight against social inequality.
2020 was rough for all of us, but I am optimistic for better times in the year ahead. Why? Over the summer, while I marched in the protests in Philadelphia, I witnessed people from so many different backgrounds unite for one common goal and that’s justice and equality. The world is so diverse and that’s what makes us so special. I think when you see people from different religious backgrounds and ethnicities all join together, it’s powerful. That sends a message that we can do this and this is what the world should look like.
Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to provide the time and attention to fully grasp what was happening in society. We had no distractions. The world was so still that we had to endure all of it. People started to take a deeper dive into understanding why the Black community was so frustrated.
It felt like a calling to me. I felt like I had to do more. I had to be a voice for my community. That’s something that I learned from Malcolm Jenkins, a former nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. I didn’t realize that I had a voice that would echo to so many people. I couldn’t just sit back and do the bare minimum. I had to stand up for what I believe and what’s right. I think I owed that to everyone who looks like me. At the end of the day, it all comes down to respect – respect and regard for every single person, every single community. If we had that mindset, the world would be a different place. If we had respect for everyone, there would not be all of these disparities that we’re trying to remedy, whether it’s jobs, education, food, housing, the list goes on.
Since I’ve been given the opportunity to play at the NFL level and have the financial means necessary to give back, I look at serving others not as a choice, but as a responsibility being a man of God who was raised in the church, seeing how the Lord Jesus Christ was a servant to His people.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. You have to be fearless in the sense that you can’t worry about what’s going to happen if you speak your mind. You can’t worry about pleasing everyone. You just have to act and serve because you feel it’s right. I think a lot of us worry about how is this going to affect an endorsement deal or how is this going to affect my spot on the team. We’re now in a world that’s bigger than that. People have realized that we need to have these difficult conversations. You know the saying, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” I think that speaks volumes. I would say courage is what I gained during this time.
My father, Rodney McLeod Sr., was a role model in hard work and selflessness. He worked multiple jobs to provide for his family and never complained. He always put others before himself. Thanks to him, I don’t complain about my situations, I just make do.
My NaNa, Katherine Graham, was just a great listener and was able to tell you the truth. She kept it honest. I think those uncomfortable conversations and the ability to be honest with loved ones is needed in today’s society. Something that has always stuck with me were the weekends where we shared heart-to-heart conversations. I learned so much from those.
And my wife, Erika, she’s honestly my rock. She is a passionate individual herself when it comes to health care. She’s very family oriented. She keeps our family together when I’m not here. She’s my biggest fan. I love her so dearly.
Similar to my grandmother, she’s a great listener and always has the right thing to say. I would say that’s something I lack. In every relationship of hers that I can think of, she’s always counted on and relied on amongst her family. If you need something done, you call E. If you need someone to talk to, you call E. When I need someone to talk to, when I need to make an important decision, I go to my wife, E.
When the pandemic started, it was apparent that helping the youth was our calling. We felt like education and health care needed to be at the center of it all. Education provides so much opportunity for a lot of these underprivileged kids. There’s also a great disparity in health care in underserved communities. There’s a correlation there when you look at the two and there’s a common denominator – it’s our people, the African American community, the minorities of the world. That’s where we decided to devote our energy.
Early on, there was a great food disparity because of COVID. We chose to partner with Philabundance for the work that they’re doing to try to help and save families. At that time, we didn’t know how long we were going to be in this stage of our lives. We tried to help the health care workers because of the time and their commitment that they were doing. We understood that it wasn’t going to be a temporary fix. This was something that we might be living with for the next year. So, let’s get on top of it. Let’s stay ahead of it and everything has continued from there.
It means a lot to me to be nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. I’m not really in it for the recognition. I do it all from the love and kindness of my heart and the understanding that it takes each individual to make this world a better place.