Antonio Garay comes from a family of athletes. His father played college and pro football; his mother played collegiate tennis and softball. His brother and sister were both college athletes as well.
But it wasn’t all about sports in their home. Just as important to his parents were fundamental values such as ethical practices, academic pursuits and fairness. Spirituality was a guiding force throughout his youth also. His parents came from different faiths: his mother was Jewish and his father Catholic. Together, they imparted to their children the value of both religions and cultures.
Like his other family members, Antonio was always a good athlete, but he believes the success that led him eventually to the NFL, where he played for the Bears, the Browns and the Jets before taking up his current position with the San Diego Chargers, comes more from within him than from any level of physical prowess. “People find success in so many different ways,” he says. “Everyone hits bumps in the road, it’s just that for some people the bumps are a little more visible to the public.”
For Antonio, these public pitfalls mostly had to do with a series of injuries that he sees as coincidental but that he realized at the time would brand him as a problematic draft pick. The biggest blow came in the form of a broken leg soon after he was signed with the Bears. For an athlete who had already suffered an unusually high number of serious injuries, this one could easily have crushed the hopes of a less determined spirit. But not Antonio. The awareness that a string of injuries like his could permanently dent the reputation of a rising sports star only made him determined to come back better than ever.
That unmitigated force of will compelled Antonio to work equally hard when he was in rehab or on a practice squad as he did during the seasons when he was a regularly playing team member. “Sometimes people close to me say, “If it ended today, if you don’t go back next season, you’ve still had a great career.” They support me no matter what, but at the same time, hearing that has sometimes driven me to work even harder. My dreams have always been to play NFL football. I play because I want to win.”
Antonio grew up in Rahway, New Jersey. The community meant a great deal to him, as did the fact that in that town alone he had approximately forty relatives. Knowing that he was seen as something of a role model to younger family members helped him to stay on track. “For me to not work hard or not really push myself to the limit so that I can obtain the goals that I set for myself would be contradicting everything I’ve ever said while talking to my brother, my sister, my younger cousins, any of the kids in my community. It is really important to me that I practice what I preach.”
Before he focused on football, he played soccer and was on the wrestling team. Both sports exerted a positive influence on his football abilities. “In soccer, I played left wing, which required a lot of running up and down the field. That enabled me to develop my athleticism and my speed and not just be another big kid on the football field. Wrestling was important to me because it’s a one-on-one competition even though you’re part of a team. There is no other person you can blame anything on if you don’t do well.’”
Competing against his older cousins throughout childhood taught him the importance of battling self-defeating attitudes. “When I speak to kids or am trying to teach something, I’ll hear them say “Oh, I don’t think I can do that.” And I tell them the lesson I learned from playing with my older cousins: “You’re so young you don’t know what you can or can’t do yet. There are some things that other people can do better than you, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.”
Antonio believes that being unlucky when it came to injuries only served to fortify his faith and his inner drive. “I think what helped me get through a lot of my injuries was just that I was always so positive and always had faith that things were going to work out just as long as I continued to work for it. My belief really is things don’t happen only because you want them to happen. You have to need them to happen. You have to want it that badly.”
Looking ahead toward retirement from the NFL, Antonio already has a plan in place for following through on his desire to give something back to his community, especially its youth. He has recently started a foundation to assist the youth from his hometown and region to make wise choices and take advantage of positive opportunities.
With his pursuit of the highest principles, well-defined moral values, a belief in the importance of academics and an unshakeable family support system, Antonio Garay reflects the tenets at the heart of the Insightful Player™ campaign.
Instant replay of Antonio’s guiding principles: