At the conclusion of his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech, Forty Niners legend Bryant Young used his platform to offer a few life lessons. A gentle man off the field, he was anything but that on the gridiron. His posture is remarkable, and his presence is noteworthy. When BY speaks, people listen. From Canton, Ohio he said,
- From my pain, I’ve found purpose.
- Letting someone grab my hand is as important as reaching for theirs.
- In an isolated world, personal connections matter more than ever.
- I keep my gaze on Christ and pour myself into good works.
- I’ve learned to trust God’s timing and not mine.
While these lessons relate to his experience as an athlete, the most meaningful one came not from a teammate or coach, owner, fan or from football. This lesson was born from a profound loss, a personal tragedy. It is heart wrenching, and it is Hall of Fame worthy. I need to hear that and remember it. It is just this: “we continue to speak his name.”
Bryant Colby Young, Sr. was a defensive tackle who played 14 years in the NFL with the same team: the San Francisco 49ers. A consensus All-American at the University of Notre Dame, they drafted Young seventh overall in the 1994 draft. He was a four time pro bowler and the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 1999. He is the 29th 49er to earn the gold jacket.
At Notre Dame, Young graduated with a degree in marketing and met his wife, Kristin. They have been together for 31 years and have six children.
Standing 6’3" tall and weighing in at 305 lbs, the most obvious word to describe BY is “strong.” As noted by the former owner Eddie DeBartolo, “Young was always double teamed, if not triple teamed!” However, Young’s physical strength pales compared to something else. The man has an inner strength that allowed him to admit his vulnerability, share the adversity he has withstood and cry several times on stage.
As mentioned in his speech, on August 11, 2016, Bryant Colby Young, Jr.—Kristin and Bryant’s eldest son—went home to heaven. Their words, not mine. After the first headache in 2014, Colby died of a brain tumor that returned and spread “too far, too fast.”
BY said “He didn’t fear death, as much as the process of dying. He wondered, Would it be painful? Would he be remembered? We assured Colby we’d keep his memory alive and continue speaking his name.”
BY said the name Colby fourteen times in his speech. He honored him with the words, “Colby, you live in our hearts. We will always speak your name.” He has. He did. He will.
I believe one of the most important ways to remember a person is to know, say, and share their name. For some, it might be too painful, but to speak a person’s name affirms their humanity. It honors their story and preserves their personhood. Colby was a son, brother, athlete, cook and friend. He may no longer be with his parents and siblings but by continuing to say his name, BY was right: he lives.
Professional football players are eligible for the Hall of Fame five years after their retirement. During this tenth year of eligibility, Canton, Ohio, gave the nod to #97, Bryant Young. Many believe that BY deserved to be a first year ballot inductee. But as noted by BY, he has learned to trust God’s timing.
Bryant Young is a proud member of the Class of 2022. Upon congratulating his classmates, he said, “Colby’s favorite number was #22.”
Once again, BY continued to say his name....and we—his fans and followers — make the connection.
I am grateful to have followed and shared in Bryant Young’s Hall of Fame journey. From school in South Bend to his time in the Bay Area, I have always held great respect and admiration for one of the game’s greatest. I have shared his testimony about Colby’s own journey with my students. I would like the Young family to know I too will continue to say his name; I hope that others do the same.
This might be on the most important things we as Christians can do. Those we love and have lost live in our hearts. To say one’s name is to offer the same prayer as one we pray at Mass:
Christ has died. Christ IS risen. Christ will come again.So too it is with Bryant Colby Young, Jr. Congratulations and thank you to Bryant Colby Young, Sr.