Our family is usually described as odd at best. My husband enjoys football at times, but is nowhere near a die-hard fan. I am a high school football official for the state of SC, whose football love boarders on obsession, and our daughter, Lexia or better known as Lex, is 7 years old, plays middle linebacker in Summerville Sertoma league and dreams of being the first female NFL player. Not at all what you might consider “normal” gender roles in our house. And being a woman in a “man’s sport” certainly can have its drawbacks. For me it is more physical – I am short and have difficulty seeing over the players, and the uniform is not really made to fit or especially flatter a woman’s body. For Lex, she faces more mental obstacles. She has had other players and other team parents and even family members tell her she should not be playing the sport she loves because she is a girl. She has never let it shake her, and that is what is so amazing about what has happened to her this year.
Lex was born in New Orleans, LA in 2007, 2 years after Katrina. My husband is Active Duty Coast Guard, and we found ourselves stationed in a strange world that was still in a major rebuilding process. At the center of that change and rebuilding we found the New Orleans Saints. We all, but especially Lex, fell in love with the Saints. And eventually when he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft, she adored Saints TE Jimmy Graham. It was not so much the incredible athleticism that Graham displayed on the field that drew our family to him, but his back story and childhood of abandonment, foster homes, beatings and a struggle to find a family. His work ethic was inspiring to say the least, and he was a prominent figure in the community giving back, both to other foster kids and especially to the men and women of the armed forces.
When a friend told me the news about Graham being traded in March I was on my way to pick Lex up from school, and I knew that Lex would have a strong reaction. My husband was in the middle of serving a year deployment in Afghanistan, and we had taken to filming little moments of our days to send to him to keep him in the loop. So, I filmed her reaction to send to him, if for nothing else than a laugh. Her eloquent, heart felt dialogue about the logical mistake of trading Graham came as she tried desperately to choke back tears but eventually succumbed to them. Since the video was too large to send via message I posted it on Facebook for him to see. The next morning we awoke to thousands of hits, multiple comments and phone calls from local and national news outlets. We were a little unsure how to go about this, but ESPN finally convinced us to come on Sports Center Live for an interview. Little did we know that they had a surprise for Lex. Jimmy called in and talked with her directly inviting her to a game in Seattle.
True to his word, Jimmy flew us out to Seattle last week. We arrived in the beautiful weather, leaving behind the flooding in SC, and were able to experience a once in a life time trip. Along with the typical touristy things like the EMP Museum, Chihuly Gardens, the Space Needle and Aquarium, we were able to take in several hours of hiking in a landscape none of us had ever seen before. Lex got to spend one on one time with Wilson, the official 12th pony. Jimmy also invited us to the closed walkthrough practice on Sunday at the VMAC, the Seahawks training facility, where Lex got to meet Jimmy face to face. He took about an hour with her, walking us around the facility, answering all her questions and listening to her random stories. He was candid and down to earth, talking openly about the trade, the adjustment and all the changes he had been through. He and my husband talked about Afghanistan (Jimmy had been there a year before on the NFL USO Tour) and the plane that Jimmy was currently building (Jimmy flies planes in his down time, and my husband’s dream was to be a commercial airlines pilot) and various other items. I am not sure that I have ever seen my daughter smile so much. And it continued on into the game on Monday night against the Lions. We found ourselves on the field before the game, face to face with the players as they warmed up. For a little girl who dreams of playing in the NFL this was a first step in realizing that dream, a step onto an actual NFL field on game day. And of course attending a game in a stadium as legendary as Century Link (better known as the Clink) is any NFL fan’s dream.
What Jimmy gave my daughter is something that I could never repay. His kindness and generosity to a little girl that he had never met has changed her. It allowed her to see how truly good people can be, the Seahawks as an organization, the fans (known as 12s) who reached out to her and welcomed her with open arms, and of course, Jimmy. We will forever be indebted to this man with a heart of gold, who took notice of a little girl’s passion for the game and admiration for him in a simple video. I say once again, Jimmy, a thousand times: “Thank You!”
Lex’s Mom teaches English at USC Salkehatchie