By Ann Liguori
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There are few public speakers out there who can rival Marty Lyons. The former New York Jets defensive tackle and defensive end, who played a key role in the formation of “the New York Sack Exchange” which led the league in quarterback sacks in 1981, tackles any speaking engagement with all the heart and skill he used on the playing field. Whether he’s giving a motivational speech, a graduation speech or being honored, Lyons is a force behind a lectern, delivering poignant and inspirational messages. More often than not, his voice will crack and he’ll fight back tears, as he speaks with a big heart, full of love and compassion.
I’ve heard Marty Lyons speak dozens of times at various functions. I play in his charity golf tournament every year, benefitting the Marty Lyons Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill children. I’ve witnessed his abilities as an auctioneer, engaging all, drawing everyone in by his down-to-earth style and sincere compassion to help others.
Every time he speaks, you can hear a pin drop and there’s usually not a dry eye in the room. Last evening, Lyons was the honoree at the Independent Group Home Living (IGHL) 33rd Anniversary Gala at Flower Field in St. James on Long Island. He didn’t disappoint. In fact, speaking without notes as he always does, he inspired and enlightened and received a standing ovation afterwards. (Independent Group Home Living (IGHL), one of New York State’s largest not-for-profit organizations, has more than 5,000 children, adults, and their families, benefitting from a wide range of programs, services and support including state-of-the art facilities and over 85 innovative training and educational programs for children and adults with disabilities www.ighl.org)
Last evening, Marty told a story, illustrating how important it is, not only to ‘do’ good things, but to ‘say’ nice things to people…to take time out, to brighten someone’s day. He recalled the time he and a buddy were walking somewhere and he took a moment to say a kind word to someone, which prompted a surprising response. He saw a woman wearing sunglasses and as he was walking by her, he said, ‘it’s a nice day to catch some rays, isn’t it?” The woman, immediately recognizing that he was Marty Lyons, told him how Marty changed her son’s life, twenty years ago, when the Marty Lyons Foundation did something special for her son! The boy died of cancer a few years after. But the Mother told Marty that she never had a chance to thank him personally for what the kindess meant to everyone. Marty could not believe the chance of that encounter. He said something nice to someone and that someone happened to be a Mother of a child his Foundation granted a wish for, years ago. “When you do or say something nice to a person, it’s amazing what you get back,” he said.
Marty had several messages last evening including the work the Marty Lyons Foundation (www.martylyonsfoundation.org) has been doing for the past thirty years. He spoke about caring for others, taking the time out to say a kind word to someone, how listening is more important than talking, how lending a helping hand goes a long way, how caretakers of the developmentally disabled and those suffering from a disease or an affliction, are the true heroes. Marty spoke about Gregory, a developmentally-disabled boy sitting next to his wife, Christine, at their table, and the boy’s Mother, Maria. Gregory arrived in a wheel chair, wearing a beautiful suit and tie and a Jets cap. His smile would melt an iceberg. Marty spoke about Gregory’s beautiful spirit and smile and about his devoted Mom. He said that before the dinner started, his Mother wanted to go out to the car to get something and that Christine and Marty talked with Gregory while his Mother left for a few minutes. Marty noticed that before his Mother left her son’s side, that Gregory took his mother’s hand, kissed it, and said, ‘Thanks Mom. I love you.’ Marty praised Maria about the wonderful way she brought up her son and how her devotion to him, and his love for her, is what life is all about. Marty’s attention to details and his ability to share these moments, make a huge impression.
“Marty’s words touched everyone,” says Walter Stockton, CEO of IGHL. “He’s a wonderful example of an athlete giving back. He doesn’t just lend his name to his Foundation, he lives it!”
Frank Lombardi, the Director of the IGHL Foundation, who organizes the annual dinner said, “Marty’s words are an inspiration to us all because he highlights the importance of giving back to people who are less fortunate. Life is short. It’s all about giving back.”
Singer/songwriter Dillon Dixon, who performed last evening at the dinner, said he was blown away by Marty’s speech. “I think it’s wonderful to hear a guy speak who doesn’t rehearse his speech because he doesn’t really have to. It did not sound premeditated. Instead of coming out and sounding ‘text book,’ his message sounded as if he was talking to me from across the table, having a cup of coffee with me. When he got emotional, you couldn’t help but get emotional with him. I was drawn to him.”
John Nitti, who was Marty’s teammate on the Jets from 1981-83 and was involved in the Marty Lyons Foundation right from the “first holiday party he had for the kids at the Holiday Inn in Westbury, thirty years ago,” says that “Marty is as sincere and emotional today as he was when I first heard him speak in 1982. Thirty years later, Marty maintains his incredible devotion to the children.”
Lyons retired from the NFL in 1991, after playing with the NY Jets for 12 years, but 21-years later, his impact continues to be as powerful as ever!