You are here

Pellom McDaniels: 5 lessons college sports taught me

Football exposed the Oregon State lineman to different cultures and attitudes, shaping the direction his life would take.

By Pellom McDaniels as told to Monica Miller

Pellom McDaniels never knew how much he would learn when he set foot on campus. He went on to play in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, then earned a doctorate in American studies and now serves as the faculty curator for African-American collections at Emory University. An NCAA Silver Anniversary Award winner, McDaniels still thinks about what he learned from college sports – and, in particular, what he learned about himself.

There is no substitute for hard work.

Hard work and determination can help most people overcome deficiencies based on circumstances and choices beyond their control. As a high school student, I struggled academically. I was fortunate to get a football scholarship to college. Because I was determined to graduate from college, I selected Oregon State over several other schools for fear of getting distracted on a much larger college campus. After suffering a knee injury my freshman year, I decided to attend classes year-round to guarantee an on-time graduation. I ended up finishing in three years and a term.

Discipline is probably one of the hardest lessons to learn and maintain.

Being a college student-athlete requires a balanced approach to everyday life. How you schedule your extracurricular activities around the requirements for classes and your commitment to your sport is crucial to your success. In my current occupation as the curator of African American collections at Emory University, I use the time management skills I developed as a student-athlete to set short-term and long-term goals for myself and my team.

Lead by example.

In my junior year, I organized a Martin Luther King Jr. candlelight vigil to honor the late civil rights leader. I wanted to shine a light on someone who I felt should be recognized for his tremendous bravery and courage in the face of immeasurable odds. Each day I find myself in the position to lead by example. This could be as simple as picking up trash on the sidewalk or leading a meeting related to program development for our library.

Have patience. The right time is not always when we want it to be.

After graduating, I thought that I was going to be drafted into the NFL, but to my dismay, I was overlooked. It took me a few years, an opportunity to play in World League of American Football and being at the right place at the right time before I made it to the NFL. When my chance came, I held on to it until I was ready to let it go. Now I work on a college campus with hundreds of people with different ideas.  Just about everything requires patience.

Be thankful and appreciative for the experiences provided through participation in sports.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play college football but even more fortunate to play at Oregon State, where I learned the value of education in the larger scheme of things. The late Paul Valenti, former Oregon State coach and administrator, taught me how sports can be a universal language between people who love to compete. Most importantly, he provided me with a clear understanding of what participating in sports showed us about ourselves in times of adversity.


Pellom McDaniels
Assistant professor and faculty curator

Hometown: San Jose, California

Current City: Atlanta

School: Bachelor’s degree in speech communication, Oregon State University, 1986; doctorate in American Studies, Emory University, 2007

Sport: Football

Fun Fact:  He is an artist (fine and applied arts).

We want to hear from you

We need your help. Taken together as a whole, the former NCAA student-athlete contribution to society is staggering. Better yet, many credit their student-athlete academic and athletic experiences as being the key to their life-long success. NCAA After the Game is looking to tell these compelling former student-athlete stories. If you know a good story idea, click on the link below and send it to us.

Submit a Story >