Enduring Resilience and an Open-minded Approach
are the Keys to His Success
Growing up in the inner-city of Houston, there were times when Gerome Sapp and his siblings had to cope without water or electricity. Other children in those circumstances might develop an embittered view, but for Gerome, it was formative to his remarkably positive outlook. From the experience he learned two important lessons modeled by his mother, Angelia, who always blended the ideal and the practical. “First of all, she would tell us that tomorrow would probably be better,” Gerome recalls. “And second, that it would be a good idea to do our homework early instead of putting it off.”
“We didn’t always have what we wanted, but we always had what we needed,” Gerome says. “My mother loved each of us unconditionally. We were Southern Baptists and went to church most Sundays, but more importantly, my mom stressed having your own relationship with God and knowing that you can depend on Him no matter what is going on in your life.”
Because their father was generally absent, his mother signed up her two sons – Gerome and his brother Charles, just one year older — in the Big Brother program. To 7-year-old Gerome, Big Brother Todd Freeman was a Godsend. “He opened me up to a whole other side of life that I hadn’t seen,” Gerome says. The two stayed close; Todd attended Gerome’s college football games and his first pro game, and Gerome was in Todd’s wedding party. “He was the first consistent male figure in my life,” Gerome comments.
In high school, Gerome connected with the second major father figure of his youth: his football coach, Lee Malowitz. The players generally considered Coach Malowitz to be tough and not always kind, but Gerome and his brother got to know the coach on a deeper level. “He realized that me and my brother weren’t just the average teenage black males. And we realized that even though a lot of people thought Coach Malowitz hated them, he was hard on us because he didn’t want to see us mess up.”
Both brothers became high school football stars. In his junior year, Gerome was Parade and USA Today First Team All-American. The following year, he was ranked the number one player in Texas. College recruiters were watching, and Coach Malowitz urged the young man to take his academic requirements seriously. Along with studying hard, Gerome and his best friend maintained a commitment to clean living, using each other’s example to avoid the drugs and alcohol in which many of their classmates indulged.
At Malowitz’s urging, Gerome kept his grades up and listened to the college coaches who wanted to sign him. He eventually chose Notre Dame, in part because of its academic reputation and in part because of his mother’s insistence that he use college to explore a different environment from his home state of Texas.
The four years at Notre Dame were fundamental to shaping not only Gerome’s football career but his adult personality as well. “A lot of guys I knew who went off to college couldn’t handle the mental burden. You’re no longer the big shot anymore. So you have to learn how to play a role of a lesser athlete, not what you were in high school. I was able to handle that though.”
His classmates incorrectly stereotyped him based on his color and southern origins, but rather than get angry, Gerome set about proving them wrong by working hard and demonstrating his intellect. To this day, he values the lessons that his social interactions at Notre Dame taught him. “Looking back on it,” he now says, “the most important thing I learned at Notre Dame was how to get along with people in different social environments.”
Entering the NFL was another culture shock. “When you make that kind of money and have that kind of free time, you can get into a lot of different kinds of trouble. But I had my head on my shoulders, so I never was in danger of going off the deep end the way some guys did. Only 5% of the guys in the NFL make the kind of money where you never have to worry about working again. If you’re in the other 95%, you have to save your money and know what you’re going to do when your football career is over.”
As for Gerome, after five years in the NFL – playing safety for both or the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts –his priorities are with his wife, Tracy, and young son Aiden.
Gerome now dedicates all of his time and energy to Fluencr, Inc, (www. Fluencr.com) a new web based social media marketing platform that allows social media users a unique ability to monetize the value of their social influence specific to a brand, while also giving brands an ability to have a more transparent look at their social media marketing ROI.
In addition to his athletic career, Gerome has earned an Entrepreneurial & Business Management Certificate from the Harvard Business School. He also co-founded with two Notre Dame teammates Morph & Thro, LLC, the world’s most sustainable performance/fitness apparel brand, the brand that a group of the Navy Seals are currently training in.
It is important to Gerome that young followers understand how many different facets make up one man’s personality. “I always tell kids not to just look at me as an NFL guy,” he says. “To understand who I am, you have to see everything leading up to this point and everything I’ve gone through. That’s the most important thing, to have a perspective when you’re looking at something.”
Instant replay of Gerome’s guiding principles:
- Nourish family relationships with love, care and loyalty.
- Develop a relationship with God based on the understanding that God is always there to sustain you.
- Use other people’s differences as a learning opportunity. Find out why they see things the way they do.
- Don’t take ignorant comments or reactions to heart. Be able to let judgments slide off of you.
- Don’t judge others, and don’t judge yourself too harshly either.
- Find friends who are good role models and who exhibit values you want to emulate.
- Stay on the straight-and-narrow, avoiding drugs, alcohol and misbehavior.
- Study hard and persist academically so that you have the greatest range of options in life.
- When times are tough, remember that “this too shall pass” and easier days likely lie ahead.
- Know your own beliefs and values. Don’t just accept what you are told or taught; think critically about why you believe what you do.
- Appreciate the many gifts you have been given.
The Insightful Player® series is brought to you by Coach Chrissy Carew, Hall of Fame Master Certified Personal and Business Coach and Author of INSIGHTFUL PLAYER: Football Pros Lead A Bold Movement of Hope. Chrissy has been deeply inspired by her father, the late Coach Walter Carew, Sr. Her father is in several Halls of Fame as a high school football coach and baseball coach (as well as high school and college athlete). He used sports to help kids build strong character and teach them valuable life skills. The Insightful Player® initiative was created to help make our world a much better place by inspiring youth. To contact Chrissy Carew visit http://www.insightfulplayer.com or call 603-897-0610.
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