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How One Act Of Kindness Changed My Life

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

I was not a great student, actually, I was terrible. Had no idea why because I really enjoyed school.

Never was a trouble maker in a high school loaded with nit whits and punks. I guess the teachers passed me each year with heartfelt D's because of a sense of feeling sorry for me?

Sports is what saved me from falling into the vortex of my blue collar town which so many became stuck. I wanted nothing more than to leave that town.

Admittedly, the only way I was able to go to college was because of athletics, the student part, not so much.

Although there were plenty of options to play football for a major college or military academies leading into my senior year, I ended up being an NCAA Prop 48 student. Which meant I did not qualify academically for D1.

So I was not able to pick a school that I wanted to attend, a lower level school had to take a big chance and pick me.

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like I let my family, coaches, teammates and the entire town down. It just happened that the college in that gritty blue-collar town, only 5 miles from my home was the only ones that took that big chance.

However, there was a stipulation. I needed to pass a basic math class in order to be officially accepted, receive my scholarship and participate in summer camp.

If I didn't pass the class and didn't get the scholarship, there was no chance I was going to college let alone play football again. My parents had three kids by the time they were 21 and neither of them went to college either. So I had to make this work.

My Plan B was to enlist in the Navy only because I wanted to go to play at the Naval Academy and I thought somehow this made up for not being able to attend.

The summer math class was July 5, 1985 and I was not even 18 years old. You can say I was a bit nervous, no pressure or anything riding on this one class. The professor was about as happy as we were to be sitting in a classroom during the summer, but she was energetic, smart and young and you can tell she wanted to help.

She proceeds to hand out an exam to a classroom of scraggly athletes at the very beginning of the class. She introduced herself and explained that this exam was to help her determine what level of math we were able to comprehend.

I believed it was titled "How Much of A Moron Are You To Make US All Take A Summer School Course". Well after we handed the exams back in, we could leave right away and I would be lying if I said I was little concerned amount my results.

The very next class, before we started the professor asked me to step outside the classroom. I thought I was done and she was going to tell me to go back to middle school.

However, she just smiled and said very calmly to write down a series of numbers that she would repeat two times, which I did. I handed the paper to her, she looked at it as if she was the bartender and I just handed her a fake ID. I wanted to throw up. She looked at me with a concerned look and said.. "Has anyone ever diagnosed you with Dyslexia" The answer I assured her was No!

To be 17 years old and go through all those years of public school struggling and not finding out until the summer going into my Freshman year of college was frustrating. She then adds these magical words. "I can help you".

Which she did and it completely changed my life. I was able to focus, digest the information, slow down my thinking process and pass that one class that I needed to be accepted into college and attend camp a week later!

What resulted because of one person's kindness was my ability now to enroll in college, accept the scholarship, play 42 NCAA college football games, be selected as a first team All American, graduate, play 21 games of pro football in Europe, inducted into three Hall of Fame's one of which was my alma mater, marry my college sweetheart, raise four children, have long careers with the NFL and The Walt Disney Company and write a book that became an Amazon #1 New Book Release in 2018. 

All because one person took the time to finally offer me help. Here is what that time in my life taught me: 1) We all have a story to tell just take the time to listen and learn 2) Meeting people is never a coincidence  3) Never judge anyone by a degree or the cover of their book 4) Everyone has flaws and it's not a sign of weakness to admit them its strength to own them 5) We end up where we need to be, not always where we think we want to be

I went from not wanting anything to do what that little college on the hill 5 miles from my childhood home to enormous gratitude. Before I graduated, I made a promise to the AD at the time that one day I will repay my scholarship back.

Well, an interesting thing happened, thirty years later I returned to repay that debt and now lead an athletic fundraising campaign for the only school that gave me a chance. Ironically I am also an adjunct and a career mentor for the sport management department, now I am helping students discover their dream careers.   My life certainly came full circle and for that, I am forever grateful for the people that have helped me along this journey.

Rob Thompson Host of SportsBiz Podcast and Founder of 90Day GamePlanU and SportsBiz StartUp Weekend Orlando 2020

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