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Spielman brings inspirational message to Bellefontaine

Former OSU, NFL standout shares his experiences during Shine FM event

Chris Spielman brought a high level of intensity to the football field. He has approached the rest of his life with a similar passion.

Spielman

Former NFL standout Chris Spielman speaks at the inaugural
fundraising banquet Thursday of Shine FM at the First Church of
God of Bellefontaine. EXAMINER PHOTO | MATT HAMMOND

Spielman, a former star linebacker at Ohio State and an 11-year veteran of the NFL, gave an emotional testimony of his ups and downs Thursday night during the Shine FM inaugural fundraising banquet at the First Church of God in Bellefontaine.

Never one to shy away from contact on the gridiron, Spielman was honest and to the point with his words.

He opened by talking about his roots. He spoke of being taught to play football by a father who was a head high school coach in northeast Ohio. At the age of 12, he asked his father if he could start practicing with his father’s high school squad.

As a scout team running back, his first experience in a high school practice was taking a hard hit by a junior who was a starter on the varsity team. Spielman expected his dad to yell at the older, bigger boy for hitting too hard. However, his father instead lashed out at his player for letting up and not hitting the young Spielman hard enough.

“I was raised to be a football player,” he said. “I gravitated to that and I embraced that.”

It was that tenacity that Spielman used to become a legendary high school player at Massillon Washington High School. He was such a big name at the high school level that he was pictured on a box of Wheaties.

At Ohio State, he was a two-time All-American and the winner of the Lombardi Award, which is presented annually to the top linebacker or lineman in college football.

Despite being undersized for an NFL linebacker at six feet and roughly 230 pounds, Spielman went on to become the Detroit Lions’ all-time leader in tackles after his eight seasons there. He also played two years with the Buffalo Bills and one year with the Browns. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection during his pro career.

As he noted Thursday, football had completely consumed his life.

“I was quoted in the Detroit News when I was with the Lions saying, ‘I am a football player. I will coach football, and then I will die.’ ”

He was completely satisfied with that approach until he was preparing for a Monday night game against the Indianapolis Colts while a member of the Bills.

“A clear message came to me out of the blue. It was a voice that said, ‘what is your purpose?’

Spielman said he didn’t immediately pay attention to that message. Late in the game that night, he was paralyzed for “three or four seconds” after tackling the Colts’ Lamont Warren.

He played through the pain in his neck until it became too severe to ignore. He had to undergo spinal surgery in 1997.

While having the surgery done in Cincinnati, he said “the voice” came back, again asking “what is your purpose?”

Shortly after his spinal surgery, it was discovered that his late wife Stefanie had breast cancer. During that same time, Stefanie had a miscarriage.

“I remember driving to the James Cancer Center with Stefanie,” he shared. “We were stopped at a red light and I just went off in the car. I said ‘what did we do to deserve this? I am injured, my wife has breast cancer and we lost a baby.’ ”

Sternly, his wife replied: “How dare you. For once in your life stop looking for the next lesson. Stop acting like you or we are owed something.”

It was a message that changed his life.

“What she said resonated with me,” said Spielman.

At that point, he started listening to the voice that he had previously dismissed.

“I realized that my purpose is to serve,” he said. “To serve God, my family and my community, in that order. I needed to be humble to the core.”

Read the full story in Friday's Examiner.

 

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