For many, sports are recreational fun; a way to pass the time. But for the few both lucky and good enough to compete as adults, sports can be the gateway to a lucrative career playing at the professional level. Many professional athletes embody the rags-to-riches story of kids who grew up with nothing only to become wealthy, international stars. Recently, VOA's Arash Arabasadi met with one of these athletes in Louisville, Kentucky.
Football as soccer - the game with the most fans, played in the most countries and watched by the most viewers - is the sport of choice around the world. But in the United States, a different kind of football is king. The National Football League (NFL) draws the most fans of any spectator sport in the country. Its 16-game schedule -- full of fast paced, flashy and often-painful displays -- keeps fans on edge week after week.
Touraj "T.J." Houshmandzadeh is a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. Touraj's father is Iranian; his mother, who named him, is black. "I mean, it was the name that was given to me, you know? My mom named me that. Why? That was her choice," he said.
Houshmandzadeh is among the league's most productive receivers, consistently ranking in the league's top 20, and his jersey is a top seller for the Bengals organization.
His head coach, Marvin Lewis, says Houshmandzadeh is an energetic member of his team. "He brings, obviously, a lot of ability. He's made a lot of plays through his career here, and just done a fine job," said Lewis. "He's a great team guy. He sacrifices a lot; plays physical, and tough inside, and he's been an excellent third down receiver. He brings some fire to the game."
The 29-year-old California native says he never knew his Iranian father. Houshmandzadeh says he talked to his father for the first time this summer, and the two have spoken several times since, but says his parents went their separate ways shortly after they started dating. "It was just a situation where he met my mom, and they were together, and he wanted her to go back with him, from my understanding, and she wasn't going to do that. So, he left and that was it," he said. "So, it wasn't, you know… I guess you could say we parted ways, but I didn't know of him, I didn't know him, so… he chose to leave and that's what happened."
T.J. never finished high school, because he says education was not a priority. "I just didn't like school," he said. "I was out all night, doing what I wanted to do, and I just got behind and I just said, 'Forget it. I'm not going to go anymore'."
His career in the NFL almost never happened, but this future star's life changed when he enrolled in junior college.
He says he learned he was good at the game when he impressed coaches enough to play at the Oregon State University*. "You get to college and you start doing well, and the coaches kind of let you know that if you stay healthy and go to school, you've got a good shot," he said. "So that's when you start to [apply yourself], you know - I did, anyway, in college."
Life has changed for the kid from California who dropped out of school before realizing his dream. He is currently in the third year of a four-year contract worth $13 million. His team, the Cincinnati Bengals, is expected to make a run at the playoffs in 2007, and T. J. will most likely play a key role.
* corrected 5 Oct 07 - originally identified incorrectly as University of Oregon.