Ameer Abdullah's Big Ten media days speech

Watch Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah's address at the 2014 Big Ten media days kickoff luncheon. Find the complete transcript below, including links to editor-selected reaction and commentary throughout.

About the speaker

Ameer Abdullah is a senior I-back at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. In 2014, Abdullah will pursue his third straight 1,000-yard ground campaign after compiling 1,690 rushing yards during his junior year and 1,137 yards as a sophomore. The Homewood, Alabama, native earned numerous accolades in 2013, including nods as a third-team All-America and first-team All-Big Ten selection and a Doak Walker Award semifinalist. Abdullah also served as a Husker team captain and took home team MVP honors last season.

Delivered on Tuesday, July 29 at the Hilton Chicago

Good afternoon. My name is Ameer Abdullah, senior running back at the University of Nebraska.

Now, before I begin today, I have a confession to make. I get extremely nervous in front of big crowds, so at any point in my speech if I seem nervous, it's because I am. 1

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It's kind of ironic when I think about it because I play at venues such as Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State where the crowds exceed over 100,000 people, but any time I'm asked to come in front of a crowd such as there is today, I immediately start sweating. Trust me nothing is more intimidating than speaking in a room full of determined reporters. I know you see big guys like my guy Shilique Calhoun walking in and I know you think he's pretty intimidating, but trust me we have nothing on you guys.

With that being said, I really want to thank the Big Ten Conference for giving me the opportunity to speak today. It's truly an honor. 1

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I know a lot of you guys might not realize it, but I'm truly a Big Ten guy. I say that because in 2011, which was my freshman year at Nebraska, it was also Nebraska's inaugural year of entering the Big Ten. I'm proud to say that the Big Ten is the only conference I've ever known. For the universities of Maryland and Rutgers, who are entering the Big Ten this year, you too will soon realize that the academic and athletic prestige of the Big Ten is second to none.


You know, we live in a capitalist society. From the stock markets on Wall Street to the everyday vendors on street corners, almost every aspect of our lives is affected by capitalism. As a sports fan, I've noticed that capitalism has reared its head in the realm of college athletics, mainly on the debate of whether college football players should be paid or not. In fact, these debates have become so contentious that lawsuits have been filed and the National Labor Relations Board has granted players from fellow Big Ten member Northwestern the opportunity to form a union. 1

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Now, it would be easy for me to stand up here and give you my personal beliefs and standpoint on the economic opportunities that may come for college athletics and college football players in the future, but that's not what I'm here to do. Instead, if I may, I'd like to touch on something that I think gets overlooked far too often, and that's something I like to call the essence of the student-athlete.

“I'd like to touch on something that I think gets overlooked far too often, and that's something I like to call the essence of the student-athlete.”

What is the essence of the student-athlete? That is, what are the fundamental attributes that make up a student-athlete? Now we all know a student-athlete is someone who participates in one or more athletic (programs) at their college. To me, that doesn't encompass the true essence of a student-athlete. To me, the true essence of a student-athlete is someone who has the desire to educate themselves athletically, academically and personally.

We've all heard the phrase before: 'dumb jocks.' I'm here to tell you guys today that by and large, student-athletes are no dummies. In fact, the essence of a student-athlete requires a student-athlete to educate themselves in many ways, including athletically.

Now, as I look into the crowd I may see a couple of confused faces. You may be thinking, "Ameer, how does an athlete educate themselves on athletics?"

Well, besides the obvious athletic lessons learned on the field such as the X's and O's or defensive strategies or offensive strategies, there are many ways that a student-athlete can educate themselves in athletics. For example, thinking back to my first fall camp in 2011, I can still remember my first toss play. There I was in the backfield, my shining moment, thinking, 'I'm going to take this toss to the crib.' As Taylor tossed me the ball, I made a nice little move to the outside and cut up field. Then — out of nowhere — All-American linebacker Lavonte David came screaming at me like a bat out of hell and completely destroyed me. Only as Lavonte could do, he got up throwing the ball and celebrating as he always does, thus dashing my hopes of getting in the end zone that day.

As I sat there humiliated and embarrassed, in that moment I learned a very valuable lesson. In life, there's always going to be someone stronger than you. There's always going to be someone faster than you. Often times, there's going to be someone smarter than you. But you can not let that deter you from your goals.

If someone is stronger than you, you have to train harder.

If someone is faster than you, you have to run smarter.

If someone is smarter than you, you have to train longer and harder. 1

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As a student-athlete, I've learned that in order to be successful in life, you have to make critical sacrifices in life in order to accomplish your goals.

When I think about it, my experience with athletics in college has allowed me to check my ego. In fact, it's allowed me to be a better teammate and a better man. I say that because, taking you guys back to my freshman year once again, I came in with three other running backs — myself, Braylon Heard and Aaron Green. And although we were all individually talented, none of us saw any significant time at running back that freshman year.

It's kind of funny thinking about it. Because we didn't get that many carries, we all called ourselves "Team No Tugs," because in every game we probably averaged like two carries between all three of us.


» In conference full of running talent, Ameer Abdullah is a true student of game Column by Lee Barfknecht

» Abdullah not looking at past inspiration for his players speech By Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa

» Laid-back approach works for Bo Pelini during Big Ten media days Column by Tom Shatel

All joking aside, that probably was the best thing that could have happened to us, because this was the first time in our athletic careers that we were not the focal points of our team's offense. But instead of developing a bad attitude or blaming someone else for our current predicament, instead we found other ways to contribute to the team — special teams or being great servicemen during practice.

In that instance I learned another very valuable lesson about life: Every person on the team plays a very important role, and any person in a company for that matter plays a very important role.

Every person plays an important role in the team. And the overall success of a team doesn't depend on only the starters, but everyone working together to accomplish a common goal.

The academic education that I've received helps me form the essence of a student-athlete. In examining the word student-athlete, notice that the word student comes first, as it rightfully should. And contrary to common belief, being a student is the most important job that an athlete has. Think about it for a minute. If our grades aren't up to par, we won't and we shouldn't be allowed to play. But aside from the athletic repercussions that one may face for not taking advantage of their educational opportunity, studies have shown that obtaining a college degree has some significant economic advantages.

For example, I read somewhere over one's life, a college graduate earns up to a million dollars more than someone with a high school diploma. Just think about that for a minute. A million dollars. That's like saying you can win the lottery by going to class and just doing your work. Now if that's not motivation for us student-athletes to go to class, I guess nothing will.

Aside from winning the educational lottery, obtaining a college education is critically important to every student and should be specifically important to all the college football players in this room. For one, not everyone is going to have the opportunity to play in the NFL. And two, if you are fortunate enough to play in the NFL, the average career is less than five years. So that means you have a lot of living to do after playing days are over.

The education that one obtains in college can help lay down the groundwork for whatever career a player chooses to pursue after playing days are over. You see, education is more than a degree or certificate that one receives after fulfilling the requirements for graduation. Education is a life-long process.

“The heart and soul of the essence of the student-athlete is personal education.”

However the heart and soul of the essence of the student-athlete is personal education.

Personal education is like a fingerprint. It's unique. Thus, every student's personal education is different. For me, my journey has caused me to face some harsh realities. For one, I'm no longer a child. And for two, as a man, every decision I make has severe consequences. At no other point in my life was this realization more painfully clear than the last time I visited home. You see, a couple months ago I went home to visit my family in Alabama. And as I usually do, I also visited my friends. And wow, a lot of things have changed in just three years.

During my visit I learned that one of my best friends, who also went to college on an athletic scholarship, got hooked onto drugs and flunked out of school. Even more disturbing was the fact that one of my best friends who I also grew up with was sentenced to 25 years in prison. 1

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Sorry, I get a little emotional thinking about it — I remember thinking to myself, how could this happen to these guys? These weren't people who I read about or see on TV, these were my best friends. Guys who I knew from elementary school to high school, and all these things were happening to them. That's when reality set in for me. If it could happen to them, it could happen to any student-athlete in this room today. It only takes one bad decision to derail all of our hopes and dreams. 1

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As I get ready for my final season in college, both the opportunity the Big Ten Conference has given me to compete in and the education I have received at the University of Nebraska combined to give me the tools needed to make great life decisions and to encompass the true essence of the student-athlete. You see, nothing — nothing — is guaranteed. But if we continuously strive to educate ourselves athletically, academically and personally, than maybe — just maybe — one day we can reach our full potential.

Thank you and good luck to everyone this season. Get 'em, 'Skers!”


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