Of course, anyone living in the public eye has a responsibility to lead by example, and yet celebrities can often inspire somebody even though they’re not aware of it. For instance, when Atlanta Falcons star Mohamed Sanu recently stepped on an airplane, he thought it would just be a normal flight. Later, however, a fellow passenger handed him a note featuring some surprising words.
Mohamed Sanu, perhaps more so than most athletes, knows the value of hard work. As the son of an immigrant from Sierra Leone, Sanu was instilled with an urge to succeed from a young age, and the star-to-be soon channeled this energy into his favorite activity: sports.
During his high school years, Sanu proved himself to be an exceptionally talented athlete. He even broke the javelin record of his alma mater, South Brunswick High, with his first attempt at the discipline. However, football was where his true passion lay, and he soon became the school’s star player.
According to his former mentor Rick Mantz, Sanu was showing his trademark dedication even as a teenager. “He said, ‘Coach, I will do everything and anything I can to help us get better,’” Mantz told NJ.com. “He just started coming in and hanging around, in between school, basketball practice. He was just a gym rat.”
Thanks to Sanu’s efforts, South Brunswick made their first playoffs in three decades. However, the school’s luck would soon run out – as their star player had grown too old to play in his senior year. So, not wanting his star to fall back in training, Mantz accelerated Sanu’s academic progress, resulting in the wide receiver gaining an early place at Rutgers University in 2009.
In his first year at Rutgers, Sanu was named his team’s Most Valuable Player for his efforts during the St. Petersburg Bowl. In addition, he clocked in an impressive 115 receptions for 1,206 yards – a season record for Big East football. Then, three years later, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, thus beginning a stellar professional career.
That said, while he may have made football look effortless, Sanu’s journey to the top was never easy. Growing up in New Jersey, the athlete had very little money to his name. “There was no food at home,” Mantz recalled. “Every time I’d drive him home we’d stop and I’d get him something to eat.”
Even at college, Manu did things the hard way. Besides his coursework tasks, the athlete had to endure 12-hour training sessions to stay ahead of the game. And grueling regimens are still a big part of this star’s professional life. Videos of intense footwork and speed trials can regularly be found on his social media accounts.
Although training may have been difficult, though, Sanu was willing to endure the discomfort if it meant realizing his dream. As he told IMG Academy in 2012, “I want to prove from day one that I will consistently contribute as a wide receiver, by being reliable and productive as a teammate, and establish my work ethic and preparation both mentally and physically each and every day.”
And Sanu’s hard work would not be in vain. Indeed, just four years after his NFL debut, the player signed to the Atlanta Falcons on a staggering $32.5 million five-year contract. It would serve as a fitting reward for all those years of dedication.
Yet while Sanu may have made the big leagues, the star never forgot his roots. The athlete even regularly returned to Rutgers to catch his former college’s most important games. And it was during one such flight home that Sanu received an unexpected honor for all of his dedication and humility.
On April 22, 2017, Sanu boarded a plane for New Jersey. And yet, as he made his way through the cabin, nothing marked it out as a particularly eventful flight, and the aircraft took to the sky without any hiccups. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, it was just an everyday journey.
Meanwhile, for Sanu everyday dedication was on the program. Yes, rather than power up his iPad or turn on an in-flight movie, he took out his playbook and began boning up on his technique. He also turned down fat- and sugar-filled snacks in favor of healthy foods and beverages. And though, naturally, Sanu didn’t pay much attention to his own habits, at least one watchful passenger was suitably impressed.
Towards the end of the flight, a family who had been sitting close to the football player approached him. Instead of them saying anything, though, the woman in the group just slipped a note into his hand, and they said their goodbyes. Intrigued, then, Sanu opened up the note, and what was written inside truly moved him.
To Sanu’s amazement, the note’s author was the mother of a ten-year-old boy who had been behind him the entire flight. Like Sanu, the child was an athlete himself; he was journeying to Connecticut to begin training with a new hockey team. And of course, the budding competitor had been eagerly watching the Falcons wide receiver throughout the trip.
What’s more, the kid had been taking mental notes of all the star player’s choices, from studying his plays to snacking on healthy foods. He also witnessed Sanu treat everyone around him with politeness and courtesy. Without even realizing it, the NFL star had just shown a potential future pro sportsman how true professional players behave.
As a high-profile football player, Sanu has, during his career, always known that he has the attention of many people. However, this was perhaps the first time that the player had realized just how much of a role model he truly is. “You are an inspiration to children and for that you should be proud,” the family wrote in the note.
After reading the message, Sanu was understandably a little humbled, and he was also quick to share his experience online. Taking a snap of the note, the star then uploaded it to Twitter for all of his followers to read. “This definitely puts a smile on my face,” he commented. “The little things.”
Within minutes of making the note public, the Falcons wide receiver was already receiving praise from fans and fellow players. Indeed, despite playing for rival team the Cleveland Browns, offensive lineman Joe Thomas tweeted to Sanu, “Much respect for how you go about your business.” Meanwhile, the Falcons’ Twitter account congratulated him for being “a role model both on and off the field.”
In this day and age, we often think of celebrities as setting a good example whenever they stand on a public platform. However, with nothing more than a few sensible and graceful gestures, Sanu showed that great role models do good deeds even when they think no one is watching. And for that, we should truly applaud his efforts.