Jesse Sapolu played 15 NFL seasons, winning four Super Bowls with the 49ers and earning two trips to the Pro Bowl. He did this despite a torn aortic heart valve, a dangerous condition that left him short of breath at times. In his new book, I Gave My Heart To San Francisco, Sapolu reveals this secret and recounts his journey to the NFL. Born in Samoa and raised in Hawaii, Sapolu has special appreciation for the success he achieved in pro football when he knows that so many others had the more typical American upbringing. In this excerpt, Sapolu writes about how his heritage helped define him as a football player and a person.
When I chose the University of Hawaii over schools from the Pac-10
and the Big Ten, one of the most important factors was the ability to
play in front of my extended family.
In my mind I knew that when I chose my school, I would not only be
playing for Farrington High School and my little town of Kalihi, but I
would be representing the entire state every single time I strapped on
my helmet. The pride of representing the people I grew up with far
outweighed playing in the spotlight of the Pac-10 and Big Ten.
Being of Samoan ancestry and raised in Hawaii, I feel very blessed
and honored to be part of two proud cultures. The two cultures are
similar in that RESPECT and HUMILITY are of utmost importance. It is a
high priority to represent yourself, your family, and your people with
humility which in return earns you respect. I understood early with
both cultures that it doesn't matter what your accomplishments might be,
if you’re not humble, accomplishments mean absolutely nothing to them.
It is a thought that never left me. Whether it was winning a Super
Bowl or simply stepping on a field for practice; everyone deserves to be
treated with respect. Represent your family and your people in a way
that would make them proud, win or lose.
My three sons (Luke, London and Roman) have heard me say many times
during training sessions, "Be humble. You don't have to be loud to
carry a big stick, just be loud when you buckle up your chinstrap." It
is what Coach Tony Dungy calls "quiet strength."