I recently had the opportunity to enjoy one of the more unique perks of being an NFL champion: visiting the White House, and being honored by the President of the United States.
It was a very surreal experience, and one that I was glad to share with my teammates.
On the plane going there, I had that same great feeling like I did when we flew out of New York after the Super Bowl win. It was that type of vibe, another one of those moments where you really start to realize that you’re the champions. It felt like a dream.
One of the most fulfilling moments of the whole trip was getting off the plane, getting to the hotel and seeing Brandon Browner standing there, cheesing hard, along with Walter Thurmond, Chris Maragos, Golden Tate and the other guys that moved on this offseason. Those guys all played a crucial role in our success, so I just gave them big hugs and told them how much I appreciate them and miss them, and how I wish them the best. A lot of us were just talking about the Super Bowl and reminiscing. It was great to get a chance to do that.
INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE
The White House itself is amazing, a palace-type environment with the big pillars and things like that. It’s a place fit for a king, and you might imagine, very well protected. When we walked in, they had us go through security and then we had to wait for a bit before the tour.
There were only certain places where you could even take a picture. Me, Sherm and Russ were the only ones that got to take a picture in front of the White House because they had that kind of shut down.
Pictures can’t really do justice to how big the place is. There were so many different rooms. As you walk the halls, you see all the presidents of the past. It’s just full of history. I think every president probably had one picture, but the one you see the most is Abraham Lincoln. You see the impact President Lincoln had on this country because he is all over the place.
They had everything kind of laid out for us on this tour. It was very well organized. We had to rehearse. They made sure we were on point and everything was professional.
Except when it came to pictures.
Everybody loves taking selfies, and a lot of guys had the idea to take one with the President. But before he came in, the security people specifically told us not to take selfies. They made it clear that we couldn’t take any pictures with him, and even had their own photographer to take pictures for us.
But when they said they would get back with us to get the pictures in maybe four to six weeks, guys were not trying to hear that. They wanted their pictures right now.
So the President came in — before we went out in front of the media — and guys were doing what Russell Okung did: shaking the President’s hand, taking a quick picture, and walking off. Everybody was just doing that. They didn’t listen to security.
Instead, they were taking selfies.
Just to see their faces and how they were doing it had me laughing so hard. It was just funny to me that they had enough nerve to still do it and just walk off.
RESPECT AND ADMIRATION
Sherm, Russ and I had a very unique experience at the White House. In addition to meeting the President, we got to meet the First Lady, Michelle Obama. The three of us filmed a commercial with her for the “Let’s Move” initiative.
Meeting Michelle Obama was my greatest memory of that event because of the glow and confidence she had. There’s just something about her that’s very unique and special, and it kind of rubs off on you when you meet her.
I also met a lot of politicians. One politician came up to me — I didn’t even know he was a politician at the time — and he just started telling me how much he appreciated me. We talked for a while, and he even started crying on me as we talked. He said how much he appreciated the way I play the game and how good a leader I am, my passion for the game and my humble heart.
It meant a lot to hear that. I needed it before we went in to meet the President. It was a great feeling, that unseen energy I always talk about that you feed off of.
Once the President got up to speak in front of the media, it was very cool to hear him speak about us. He kept on mentioning us in the backend of the defense, and that was great. Then at the end, when we were taking a picture, he even told Coach Carroll, “Get out of the way cause you’re blocking Earl Thomas.” That was a “Wow!” moment for me. The cameras were going, he’s talking to the media, and he’s still mindful and aware of little ol’ me.
It definitely reassures me about what we did, and what that’s worth to people. You have to know your worth because you never know who’s watching. When you have a success like that, your platform keeps getting bigger. You’ve just got to be mindful of everything and keep going. Those are the moments where you realize you’re on that vertical path, and there’s clarity everywhere.
I got kind of upset with the President at one point because he brought up San Francisco. I actually kind of blurted out, “Why would he even bring up the 49ers?” Coach Carroll looked back at me and snickered because he knows that’s the mentality I have.
I really didn’t have a sense for President Obama’s personality before meeting him, but just hearing him talk, you can tell he’s very comfortable in his skin. He’s kind of sarcastic and funny, but keeps straight-faced when he’s being that way.
He made a joke about our GM, John Schneider, asking why he didn’t bring his championship belt, and everybody busted out laughing. That was a great moment, too, because I started that whole thing, and was the first person John looked at when the President said that. That’s a unique thing that I know he’s never going to forget and I’m never going to forget.
Those are just great memories we’ll always have from that season.
The other thing about President Obama that impressed me is the stand he takes for African American culture. He’s not scared to speak on topics that some people are kind of scared to touch on. During his speech about our team, he even mentioned Russell Wilson being the second African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and Russell having highest winning percentage at home. People are kind of sensitive about those types of subjects and he definitely wasn’t. That stood out to me, and I appreciated it.