Ellis Lankster: Hero on and off the Field

Jake Steinberg, TheJetsBlog.com

Many professional football players are known for their work on the field.  Very few of these players, however, are known for their work off the field as well.  New York Jets cornerback, Ellis Lankster, makes his mark in both areas.

Signed by the Jets in 2011, Lankster makes his presence on the field known with his solid tackling and lightning speed.  He constantly pushes himself to be a driving force that delivers for his team.  His personal strength conditioning coach, Vince McConnell, has said in his thirty years of coaching, Lankster is his all-time favorite player to work with—not just because of his professional accomplishments and not just because of his great athleticism, but also because of his intense dedication to his teammates and his willingness to keep learning.

It is important to note that Lankster has chosen to follow along a trail of dedication in all aspects of his life.  He is a man of results.  He is a man of commitment.  And he is a man of purpose.  Besides being dedicated to the New York Jets during the season, he mentors younger athletes, specifically high school and college players, during the off-season.  By working one-on-one with them in order to improve their football skills, the young players benefit along with their coaches.

But there is something else about Lankster—something that distinguishes him from other dedicated athletes in the National Football League.  Lankster suffers from severe stuttering, a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions, prolongations, or abnormal stoppages of sounds and syllables.  It is a disorder Lankster has had to deal with every single day since he learned to speak.  It is a disorder that has caused Lankster years of ridicule.  And it is a disorder that Lankster refused to let prevent him from achieving his dream of playing professional football.

He vividly remembers his own difficulties with stuttering as a child, especially in the classroom—the constant teasing by classmates—the constant name-calling—and the constant uncertainty of teachers as to how to handle him.  The end result for Lankster was withdrawal and a lack of participation in classroom discussions.  In an interview with the National Stuttering Association’s magazine, Letting Go, he painfully recalls not raising his hand, even when he knew the answers.  Rejection tore through his soul.

Now, Lankster is determined that every child who stutters should feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  The doors of opportunity should remain open regardless of one’s struggles with fluency.  He is committed to providing hope to children who stutter by inspiring them to attain their dreams by overcoming the obstacles they face.  In fact, Lankster was honored this past May by the Stuttering Foundation, the world’s leading charitable organization helping those who stutter.  He was recognized for the inspiration he brings to the stuttering community.

By sharing his story, Lankster plays an active role in awareness, illuminating a path to endless possibilities.  For many children, having a role model such as Lankster, who has lived with stuttering, is all the inspiration they need.  He is an example for children that stuttering does not mean you cannot live your dream.  He is proof that any goal can be attained.

As children watch him during interviews and press conferences, it should be clear that self-acceptance transcends challenges such as stuttering.  Even as an adult, the ridicule continues, but instead of shying away from the media and spotlight, Lankster does the opposite—he seeks it out.  It is important to him for children to see him grab the bull by the horns.

I have spoken so far of Lankster’s dedication and inspiration, but it is his philanthropy that also sets him apart from the rest.  As part of his mission to give back, Lankster donates his time to the Stuttering Foundation, speaking with adults and children.  As a New York Jet, he is given two tickets to every home game.  While most players give these tickets to family and friends, Lankster donates them to the Stuttering Foundation.  In turn, they are given to a child who suffers from stuttering.

He continuously reaches beyond the boundaries to benefit those in need.  This past Thanksgiving, Lankster donated 100 turkeys to a community outreach program in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama.  His generosity is like a glimmering ray of hope.

And his philanthropy does not end there.  Lankster is also in the process of organizing a charitable, celebrity/athlete basketball event that should take place within the next two months to raise money for the U.S. troops still stationed in Afghanistan.  He does not give to others out of pity but rather he would pity not giving to others.

I am proud to say that I have personally come to know Ellis Lankster.  After developing a relationship with him through my sports coverage on Twitter, I had the opportunity to meet him at the Jets’ training camp this past summer in Cortland, New York. We have continued to stay in touch.  It is difficult to figure out which is bigger, Lankster’s smile or his heart.

Ellis Lankster is worthy of praise because of his dedication both to his team and to younger athletes, his inspiration to the stuttering community, and his philanthropy to many charitable organizations.

So, let us honor a hero that has taught us to look past our limitations—a hero that has taught us that we have the power to believe—a hero that has taught us that if you can dream it, you can achieve it.  Ellis Lankster continues to bring hope to others and shines a spotlight on what is possible.

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