When Jameel McClain readies for the snap behind the New York Giants’ defensive line, the imposing 6-foot-1-inch, 250-pound linebacker knows his task is to stop some of the most talented offensive players in the league. To do so, he draws on an unlikely advantage over his opponents: his past.
“Every time I’m lined up, I think they just don’t want this as bad as me,” McClain tells Jens Erik Gould. “They really haven’t been through what I’ve been through or seen the things I’ve seen to have the same feeling at that moment.”
As depicted in the above Bravery Tapes episode, numerous misfortunes marked McClain’s childhood in the crime-ridden area of North Philadelphia. His father was incarcerated, his peers were caught up in drugs, he and his family lived for a time in a homeless shelter, and he often didn’t have enough money for food or new clothes.
For many people, those hardships might be insurmountable. But McClain saw them as an opportunity, an impetus for success. Not only did he ultimately pull himself out of poverty, but he achieved his dream of becoming a professional football player, helped the Baltimore Ravens to a championship in 2012, and is now playing in his seventh NFL season.
“My past motivates me beyond anything,” McClain tells Jens Gould. “I’ve been to the darkest part of dark. I’ve been down like most people have never been down. I’ve overcome all of that and I’m still fighting for a dream.”
Directed by Jens Erik Gould
Produced by Jens Erik Gould and Alex Balassa
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens has more than a decade of experience covering multiple beats in more than a dozen countries across the globe, including covering Venezuela politics for The New York Times and Mexico’s economy for Bloomberg News. He covered music for TIME Magazine and time.com, interviewing artists from Skrillex to Danger Mouse. He is also a singer songwriter who has released three albums.