London Fletcher is a machine. He has played in 191 straight games (tied for the second-most in the NFL with Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber). He’s never missed a game. He’s been the NFL’s Player of the Week as well as GMC Defensive Player of the Week. He has been named to the All-Madden Team and as Rick Gosselin’s Free Agent of the Year. He sets franchise records and has led his team in tackles for 11 consecutive seasons (1999-2009). He’s racked up more than 100 tackles in each of the past 11 seasons and has the most tackles in the NFL this decade (1,244). Oh yeah, and a Super Bowl ring.
In his 2009 season alone he was named to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King’s All-Decade Team and the USA/NFLPA “All-Fundamentals” Team, won the B.J. Blanchard Award, was a finalist for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He finally made it to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and is currently in the running for the DC Sports Alliance’s SneakerBall 2010 Fan Choice award for “Solid Character.”
Fletcher’s stats can be traced back to the east side of Cleveland, Ohio where he attended Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School excelling in both football and basketball and earning three varsity letters. He also played on two state championship basketball teams. Following high school, he attended John Carroll University and was first team All-American in both 1996 and 1997 and was named Ohio Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week three times. As a senior, he rewrote the record books with 202 tackles, was named Football Gazette Division III Linebacker of the Year and nominated for the Gagliardi Award – the Heisman Trophy of Division III.
After graduating in 1998 with a Bachelors Degree in Sociology, Fletcher signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the St. Louis Rams and played in all 16 regular season games. He went on to win the teams coveted Rookie of the Year award. The following year, he earned his way to the starting middle linebacker position and set the year’s record for most tackles. It was his second pro season and he was determined to tackle his way to a Super Bowl ring. His determination paid off. The Rams made Super Bowl XXXIV and defeated the Titans 23 -16.
In 2002, Fletcher signed with the Buffalo Bills and immediately broke franchise records. As a Bill, Fletcher was elected to the Pro Bowl a staggering eight times. In 2007, he signed with the Washington Redskins where he currently serves as a team captain and has led the team in tackles for the last three years. He has also been named the Washington Redskins Quarterback Club Player of the Year in each of his three seasons with the team.
But football wasn’t why we sat down to talk at Redskins Park. We were there to talk about him, the man behind the number 59.
At a time when athletes have reality shows and high paying endorsements, self-promotion is alive and well. I’m not knocking them; they have the right to make a buck. It’s the other side of the coin I’m interested in. It’s a side we rarely see: their charity work, their good deeds. How about a reality show about that? The truth is most athletes give back to their communities. They help bring change, garner awareness and raise funds; some by lending their names, others by pitching in and others form their own charities. London Fletcher is one of these athletes. With his quick million dollar smile, kind demeanor and warmth, Fletcher is as passionate about his charity as he is about making tackles. There is a sense of honor and pride but not of self-indulgence. He is laid-back without being too casual. He has a quick wit and sense of humor; but most of all there is a true sense of humility, a quality rarely seen in the average person let alone a pro athlete.
When we sat down to talk we discussed his career and football but when the discussion led to his charity, London’s Bridge, Fletcher’s face lit up.
Fletcher started London’s Bridge in 2003 as an Ohio based non-profit corporation giving back to his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, his good works have spread to Buffalo, New York, Charlotte, North Carolina and, of course, Washington, DC. As he began to talk about their programs and recent activities, I knew he was a man that truly lives his charity. Fletcher rose out of personal tragedies but has never forgotten where he came from. Nor has he forgotten how he got to where he is today. He feels blessed and he wants to bless others. He is more than a success story on the field; he is a success story in life. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
OT: You’re a devoted family man, husband, father of two young children, and a tireless team leader. You have your own charity and a punishing job as the Washington Redskins starting linebacker, what drives you?
LF: I know each day is a gift so I try to go out and live each day to the fullest. I try to please God and be the best Christian I can be. I strive to be the best husband, father and then, football player.
OT: Is there a mantra you live by?
LF: Not really. I just remember that my worst day could be considered somebody’s best day. I don’t stay sad long and am always pretty positive.
OT: Jim Zorn said you “are a man he would want his son to look up to.” How does that make you feel?
LF: That is humbling. (Pause) It’s humbling to know that someone would want their child to look up to me. Coach Zorn is a strong Christian man and a great man. He is someone that his own son should look up to, so for him to have said that, it is definitely humbling.
OT: You’ve recently been nominated for a 2010 Fan Choice Award for “Solid Character” from the Greater Washington Sports Alliance. How important is it to receive acknowledgement for just being you?
LF: You know I don’t do anything for acknowledgement or accolades; I do it because I feel compelled to do it. Certain things I have a passion for and feel totally connected to helping people and particularly youth. So those things I would do without any recognition at all. I do appreciate it though.
OT: Who where some of your mentors growing up?
LF: I was part of a program called, “I Have A Dream” in sixth grade. A lady, Charlotte Kramer, adopted our class and donated at least $250,000 for our college education. From then on I was really impressed with her…to do this for a bunch of children she didn’t even know. I know I got to this point [in my life] based on the help of a lot of other people. I look at that and from there decided I wanted to give back when I could.
OT: So you think mentoring is important?
LF: Yes it is. One of the things she [Kramer] did was provide us with mentors. Her husband [Leonard Schwartz] was my mentor but she found mentors for all 72 students. It played a major part of my development. To have the opportunity to meet someone from a different part of life, to be able to talk to, to share things with…yes, mentoring is extremely important.
OT: Let’s talk about your Foundation, London’s Bridge. Your web site says the mission is to “build a bridge to our future.” How are you doing this?
LF: London’s Bridge has four parts to it. Our focus, first and foremost, is on education. We have an ACT and SAT prep course we provide for as well as a three college scholarships. This past year we started the Brigade where we took 25 students from MacFarland Middle School in DC and provided them with mentors for four months. We also focus on leadership so we took the students to the Capitol to meet with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. They also volunteered at the annual Redskins Harvest Feast at Fed Ex Field, went to a game, and visited the Newseum to see how journalism has shaped American history.
We have a bike giveaway every year where we give away around 60 bikes, pads and helmets as well as other toys during Christmas. We provide Thanksgiving meals for families in need. Recently, we brought folks from the Loudoun Homeless Shelter out to the training camp and provided them with meals. We also brought families that recently lost a parent in Iraq as well. It was just another opportunity to maybe bring a smile.
We are also starting something big in spring 2011. I can’t talk about it yet but it’s going to be great. (Smiles)
OT: How does one get their child or school involved?
LF: We usually pick who we get involved with internally. I wanted to do something in the District because we practice in VA, we play in MD but we are the Washington Redskins. I also know that DC in general is a very tough city for a lot of students and there are a lot of students who would love to meet Redskins and have a connection to the team. Rhonda Foxx, our Executive Director, has the relationship with MacFarland Middle School so that’s how that happened. As far as the other programs, we use outside sources. We contact the schools, school districts, local recreation centers, boys and girls clubs, churches and other community programs to ask them for their recommendation for students that have a need.
OT: How does one donate their time and/or money?
LF: (Laughs) You can donate money anytime! Just go to our website [www.londonsbridge.org] and we will provide you with an address to send your donation. As far as volunteers and mentors, we are really careful with that. We do background checks for all volunteers but most of the people, the mentors, the volunteers, we know personally.
OT: Why is charity and working with children so important to you?
LF: My upbringing; the history of how I got to this point and who I am today. I got here through the help of other people. My mother was a very giving person so I think I got a lot of that from her.
OT: What’s your future after you hang up the 59? Coaching?
LF: If it’s coaching it would have to be on a middle school or high school level. I never say never but coaching professionally is something I don’t think I would do. (Laughs) It’s a tough job.
OT: How about commentating?
LF: Yes, I would like to commentate and do more work with my foundation. I just want to to be involved in changing people’s lives.