LIVINGSTON, NJ - In March, the Ambassador for the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes (MJM) of Barnabas Health, David Diehl, a two-time NY Giant Super Bowl Champ, spoke to an audience of parents, sports enthusiasts, coaches and children form many area schools about the dangers of concussions, signs and symptoms and how to treat them. Prior to the event, it was announced that the school with the best attendance at the “Sports Injury Awareness Night” event would “Win a Day with David.” Livingston’s Aquinas Academy won the contest hands-down.
And, Diehl made good on his promise to spend the day with the winning school by attending Field Day at Aquinas on Tuesday.
"We are extremely excited to be here with David to celebrate Aquinas Academy and their victory from "Win a Day with David," and this is what its all about--having fun with the kids and sending our message by making the education a lot of fun," said Diana Toto, M.S., MJM program director.
The day began with an indoor assembly where Diehl shared stories of perseverance from his childhood including one where his basketball coach told him not to give up the game because he wouldn’t be any good at football. Prior to this conversation, Diehl, who had played basketball for many years, had gotten the itch to play football. Though not a great player, “yet,” he said he loved the game and wanted to focus his efforts on it.
Diehl shared that being told he couldn’t do something made him even more determined to do it. He said that he hoped this story would inspire the audience to always listen to their instincts and try their hardest.
He also asked them to tell him the first thing they did in the morning—weeding through comments of brushing one’s teeth and eating breakfast, until one student said he made his bed.
“Making your bed is the first task you have accomplished in the day,” said Diehl, who added two more important tasks to the list, which were: make a list of goals for the day and living life without regrets.
He then took questions from the audience, which ran the gamut from how tall he was, 6’7” to how many years he played in the NFL—13.
“I planned to stop at 12 years,” he said, “but my daughter asked me to play for one more year so I obliged.”
He also told the students the importance of education. He explained that he knew he couldn’t rely on playing football forever.
“Only one percent of college players make it into the pros,” he said.
“As a kid, I either wanted to be a football player or an FBI agent,” he said. “So, I knew I had to be smart and be an athlete to be prepared for both, in case one of those dreams didn’t work out.”
He said he studied hard in college so he could have a future beyond football when he was no longer a player.
“This way, I could always use my brain instead of my body to accomplish the things that I wanted to do,” he said.
“I got my college degree, my masters, and was a five-time academic awardee,” he said, “I got more awards in college for my academics than I did for football.”
The yellow and white clad students cheered for Diehl at the conclusion of his talk, amidst student-made posters welcoming Diel to the school that adorned the gym walls. Students with red wristbands had the opportunity to pose for photos with Diehl, prior to joining their peers for Field Day, where they would compete in various relays for a few hours outside with Diehl.
“This is a day that we were waiting for,” said Aquinas Academy Principal Lena Picillo, O.P. “It was such a thrill, to have a two-time Super Bowl winner at Aquinas Academy to share a wonderful motivational story with the children from the preschool all the way up to our eighth grade. We are so grateful.”
“This is what it’s all about to me—making a positive impact on people’s lives,” said Diehl. “And for this to be the school that had the most participants for the concussion education screening program spoke volumes about how excited they were to get involved and for their parents to get involved to see just how important it is to get baseline testing for their children and get the concussion screening, so that god forbid something happens they know the return to play protocol.”
“So, while, yes, it was partially about that to come here—today is also all about them,” he said. “I also wanted to come out here and have fun, and share my story of how motivation in my life has gotten me to where I am today.”
“I never had the opportunity to have a NFL player come talk to my school or stand in front of us, so for me to come here, I was thinking, ‘what kind of message did I want to make,’ ‘what would I have wanted to hear at their age—at that point to change my life for the better,” said Diehl. “That was the message I tried to send and most of all, I wanted to have fun and answer questions and talk to them, and then go outside and play with them. An event like this is great because it is about the kids and making a lasting effect on people’s lives.”
Outside, students high-fived Diehl, and treated him like one of their own as they participated together in relay races for the next two hours.