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From a War Zone to the Ring of Honor, Tamba Hali Epitomizes What it Means to be a Legend

Hali was announced as the Chiefs “Ring of Honor” inductee on Saturday

"The American Dream" as an expression – popularized by writer James Truslow Adams – was coined in the 1930s amidst the Great Depression. It described a belief that individuals of all backgrounds – regardless of their respective circumstances – could lead a rich and full life in the United States.

Adams ideated that concept in 1931, but nearly a century later, there has perhaps never been an individual whose life and triumph fully represented those ideals like Tamba Hali.

"The way it's played out is like some kind of movie," Hali said. "Somebody wrote the script, but it's my life, and I'm living it."

Indeed, Hali, who was announced as the Kansas City Chiefs' "Ring of Honor" selectee on Saturday, is a tangible representation of what it means to achieve greatness despite humble – and often horrifying – beginnings.

A child stranded in war-torn Liberia for the first decade of his life, Hali made a harrowing escape from his homeland at the age of 10 to live with his father in New Jersey. His escape meant separating from his mother, and at the time, he didn't know a word of English.

"I [was] ducking bullets and running away from people killing civilians [in Liberia]…[When I got to the U.S.], I couldn't read or write," Hali said. "If you're hearing that story, you're not saying, 'Man, Tamba's going to be in the Hall of Fame when it's all said and done.'"

Hali overcame those obstacles and countless others, however, on a path that eventually led to Kansas City. He was a high school football star and an All-American at Penn State along the way, culminating in becoming the No. 20 overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft.

A relative newcomer to football who was more interested in basketball and soccer as a child, Hali certainly picked up the game quickly. He racked up eight sacks as a rookie – the most on the team – and only ascended from there. In fact, Hali – who spent 12 seasons with the Chiefs from 2006 through 2017 – went on to record the second-most sacks (89.5) and forced fumbles (33) in franchise history during his remarkable career. Only the legendary Derrick Thomas recorded more of each for the red and gold.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Tamba Hali (91) rushes the passer during the Nov. 19, 2006 home game against the Oakland Raiders.  The Chiefs won 17-13.

He earned two All-Pro nods (2011 and 2013) and six-straight Pro Bowl nominations from 2010 through 2015, consistently wreaking havoc on the opposition as one of the league's most-feared edge rushers.

His on-field impact was immense, but his efforts away from the gridiron were even more significant. Hali has donated tens of thousands of dollars to causes in West Africa throughout the years, including $50,000 to construct a 70-bed Ebola treatment unit in 2014. Those efforts – coupled with his consistent and dedicated philanthropic endeavors in both Kansas City and New Jersey – made Hali the Chiefs' nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2014.


Hali's journey has been nothing short of remarkable, and as fans gathered at the annual "Draft Fest" celebration on the stadium grass last Saturday, they had an opportunity to show Hali their appreciation for not only his play, but who he is as an individual.

"I'm really grateful. I'm just really grateful to all the people that had to do with where I am today," Hali said. "Being around the people that surround me today – my people – they're proud of me."

It's a life that's simply a modern embodiment of "The American Dream," epitomizing Adams' words from 1931:

"…It's a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are."

Hali's unwavering spirit has proven capable of wonders, and now set to join the Ring of Honor later this year, this war-zone escapee turned football star and humanitarian will be recognized forever.

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