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“Why not you?”—The Immeasurable Heart of Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson

“Why not you?”

These simple words were spoken to Russell Wilson by his father, Harrison, and they would change his life.

Years before his Super Bowl championship with the Seattle Seahawks, Wilson was a high-school senior and multi-sport athlete, torn between a baseball career and football dreams. The Baltimore Orioles had drafted him straight out of high school with a guarantee of a million dollar contract. Deep down, however, Wilson desired to play professional football one day, but there was one issue that every coach and scout had raised: At a little under six feet, he was undersized. It was the same old song he had heard since playing youth football.

His father, who then was struggling with adult-onset diabetes, told him that professional sports could wait. By choosing to go to college instead of to pro baseball, Harrison explained to his son, Wilson would get to play both of his beloved sports as well as gain an education. Wilson promised his father that he would take this path and soon after turning down the Orioles, he enrolled at North Carolina State…and unknowingly began his championship journey to the Seattle Seahawks and the Super Bowl.

In an interview with the New York Times, Wilson commented on his father—who passed away in 2010 from complications with diabetes—and how he still relies on his inspiration today to get through tough circumstances. “He used to always tell me ‘Russ, why not you?’” Wilson recalled. “And what that meant was believe in yourself, believe in the talent God has given you even though you are 5-foot-11, and you can go a long way.”

Think about that for a moment. “Why not you?” The advice is so simple, practical—and yet so profound. A father says it to a son…and he rides that to the pinnacle of his profession.
“He and my mom gave me my belief,” said Wilson in the interview. “I play with my dad in my heart every game because he really taught me about discipline, preparation and how to be an ultimate competitor.”

Wilson has lived by the “Why not you?” motto ever since his conversation with his father. He has dedicated himself to the continuous pursuit of Greatness—which is evident in his lifestyle and work ethic. At North Carolina State, Wilson would begin his days at 4:30 a.m., practice for football, go to his classes, attend baseball practice in the afternoons, and then study in the evening. He finished his undergraduate degree in three years and, when he transferred to the University of Wisconsin, drove halfway across the country to get the Badgers’ playbook and learn it in less than a month.

He once again encountered criticism about his size during the NFL Draft, and was drafted in the third round (75th overall) by the Seahawks. As he watched quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, and others get selected before him, Wilson refused to be discouraged. Instead, he saw this oversight as another opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong.

When he got his chance, “Why Not You” became the theme.

Now, after three stellar seasons in the NFL, Wilson is attempting to win his second Super Bowl championship, back-to-back…and the critics have all been silenced.

We can all be evaluated by our height, weight, lack of accomplishments, or any other external factors, but heart simply cannot be measured. Some of the Greatest victories in sports history have been won by outmatched underdogs who did not understand the meaning of “quit.”

Russell Wilson asks himself all the time, “Why not me?” Have you stopped to consider, why not you? What question drives you the most? Is there something in your life that you’d like to achieve—something that is more meaningful than a million-dollar contract?

If this blog inspired you, please leave me a comment and share it with someone else! Why not?

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Comments (14)

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    Leighton Cubbage

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    This is a powerful and timely example of someone who overcame by attitude and work.
    “Why not you ? ” That’s an inspirational and fast thought changer for me and now my family. Thanks so much .
    Leighton Cubbage
    Greenville , SC

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      Don Yaeger

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      Leighton, thank you for reading the blog and sharing it with your family! We can all ask ourselves this simple question to progress every day: “Why not you?”

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    Michael

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    Don,
    Wow! This is so true. i have a 14 year old son who aspires to greatness in his sport and i will pass this along to him so that he has another “greatness” barometer.
    Thanks

    • Avatar

      Don Yaeger

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      Michael, thank you for your comment and sharing the blog with your son! I hope he is inspired to pursue Greatness in all his efforts!

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    Dave

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    Great kid, glad his dad listened to the motto of the 2004 Boston Red Sox which they had on their World Series t-shirts, “Why Not Us?” That’s the heart of a champion.

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      Don Yaeger

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      Dave, that’s a great anecdote! Thanks for the reminder and your comment!

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    tom savino

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    he learned from his dad never let your circumstances direct your path

    great message!!!! Go Seahawks!!!

    • Avatar

      Don Yaeger

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      Tom, exactly. We can all learn and apply Russell’s lesson to our own lives. It’s a universal message! Thank you for your comment!

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    Gary Campbell

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    Don, I reference Russell Wilson in many of my leadership development discussions. Great blog. His work ethic alone inspires and the leadership qualities he exhibits obviously were home grown. Nice piece!

    Gary

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    Bruce

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    I have a Daughter, who had the Focus and Passion, to be a Steeplechaser Rider, in a Man’s World, but her ‘Drive’, and Work ethic, made Her, the Top Money Winning Steeplechaser Rider, in Very Old Sport !!! She TOO, Finished College, while Riding Races, and after she Retired, had 2 Children, and came back, 9 Years later, to Win, our Biggest Timber Race, again, against the Men !!! Will and Determination can do it !

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    Frances Hall

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    Don,
    I read this to my son at dinner last night – he is 10 and plays flag football but is one of the smaller kids on the team…you have inspired him! :) Thank you!

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    David Crisp

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    Your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, look at yourself through His eyes, and excel ! Great article ! Thanks Don

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    Beckie Saupé-Kohler

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    My husband & 2 young boys brought me in to hear Russell’s story at the end of the game; all 3 of them were touched and in tears. My 2 boys are very small in stature & weight for their ages, but they are both one of the best athletes in their age groups. This story inspires me to always continue to praise on my kids, pouring huge belief into them and showing them that they were given a gift, talent & ability from God; that no matter what it is, it needs to be carried out & followed through, regardless of the adversity & disadvantages that they will face, in life & in sports to achieve their dreams.

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    Lisa

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    Thanks so much for writing this great article. I am a Hawks fan but am one of those people who has a harder time being a fan if I can’t respect the players. I appreciate Russell for the amazing player and leader that he is, but much more important to me is who he is as a person. He is an amazing, caring and giving man who has the strength to show his love for God. These are the things that make me a fan of Russell Wilson.

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Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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