Marty Lyons was a pretty good football player. He played four years on the defensive line at the University of Alabama under famed head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. The team went 31-5 during his four years at Alabama, culminating with the 1978 national championship in his final year. He was an All-American that year, and in 2006 Sports Illustrated named him to Alabama’s all-time team.
In 1979, the New York Jets chose Lyons with the 14th overall pick. He played 12 seasons with New York and was a member of the New York Sack Exchange. His biggest accolade, though, came off the field: the 1984 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
After the death of his father and his “Little Brother,” coupled with the birth of his first son over a six-day span, Lyons decided he wanted to help others. He helped found the Marty Lyons Foundation, for which he won the Walter Payton Award. The foundation accepts donations, which are then used to help grant wishes of children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.
It turns out Marty Lyons is pretty good man, too.
We caught up with him to talk about the foundation, Bear Bryant, and being a good man.
Why start a charity? Why one that’s focused on helping terminally ill kids?
The reason why I started was in 1982, in a matter of six days, I went from the ultimate high to the ultimate low. My oldest son Rocky was born on March 4th, my dad suddenly died on March 8th, and a little boy that I was a Big Brother to died of leukemia at the age of six on March 10th. In a matter of six days your world is turned upside down. I felt, as a professional athlete, it was time to give back. So I started a program in memory of my father and Keith (his Little Brother) so that I could help other kids that were unfortunate.
Are you a good man? Why or why not?
I think I am, but I think that’s a question that we’re all going to be judged on by the way others feel towards us. I can look at myself in the mirror and look at myself as a good father, a good husband, a good friend, a trustworthy person, and a person who’s trying to make this world a little bit better for those who live in it. But that question really is a question other people are going to judge you upon. How other people look at you and how they feel towards you is really where you find your values.
What makes a good man, in your eyes?
I think what makes a good man is an honest man—a man that’s reliable, a person that’s trustworthy, a person that stands by his word and doesn’t have to write it down in a contract. You lead by example and if you set your standards high and you keep your priorities in the right order, then you should be a good person. Does that translate into being a good person every day? No, because nobody’s perfect. You just try to do the stuff that you can.
Who has been the ultimate good man in your life?
I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had quite a few. Starting with my own father, to my brothers, to coach Bryant in college, to my teammates. I’ve been blessed and fortunate to be around good people. I can take a part of them and put it into my life, using them as an example.
What other men would you nominate as a “Man of the Day?” What guys, like you, are doing equally awesome things?
I think it’s people who are willing to take time to make sure that people around them will have a better life. Boomer Esiason is definitely one. He’s doing a great job with cystic fibrosis. On another scale, there’s a guy by the name of Rich Wingo, who’s really one of my mentors. I played college ball with him. About 15 to 20 years ago, he turned his life over to God. Anytime you have any little bit of adversity in life, he’s always there to listen. He’s always there to give you advice. He’s always there to work it through. I think he makes a difference in a lot of people’s lives.
I think it’s the guys that don’t look at themselves first. They look at the needs of other people. We’re all survivors. At the end of the day we’re all going to be judged based on whether or not we took the time to make a difference.
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