Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey has a picture of his father proudly wearing a Browns shirt.
“My dad thought I was the whole world,” Kirksey said.
But the picture was not taken after he was selected as a captain this year, or after he inked his new lucrative deal in 2017, or even after he was drafted by the Browns in the third round in 2014. The picture was taken before Kirksey ever played a snap in college. And at the time, Kirskey’s dad, Elmer, had no connection to Cleveland or the Browns.
Soon after that picture was taken and prior to the start of Kirksey’s first season at Iowa, Elmer Kirksey suffered a heart attack and passed away.
“I was lost. I am not going to lie to you. I had a lot of questions unanswered. I was confused. I went back home. I didn’t want to play football anymore,” Kirksey recalled. “Then I thought my dad wouldn’t want that. He didn’t raise a quitter.”
Even though he didn’t quit, as a mere three-star recruit at 6-2 and about 185 lbs, the NFL wasn’t necessarily an obvious landing spot for Kirskey.
“This is my whole story. This is my whole life. I was always small. I was always, 'He is not going to make it. He is not going to do this. He is not going to do that.' I use it as fuel. I use it as motivation,” said Kirksey.
Even though Kirksey’s father died, he has been an important part of his journey thus far.
“For me, it is like you are playing for something that is bigger than yourself. I am playing for my family. I am playing for my dad,” Kirksey explained. “And when you play for something other than yourself it makes you go harder.”
However, for Kirksey, who is now in his fifth season with the Browns, success is not just measured by how he plays, but also by how he lives.
“Before my dad passed away he told me to be strong and that he loved me and to always treat people how you want to be treated and to put people before yourself,” Kirksey recalled. “It is all about serving others. I think that is the biggest lesson that I learned from my dad.”
Kirksey, who regularly participates in and host charity events, added, “So I think he would be more proud of the things I am doing in the community - the things I am doing with children.”
Whether it is on or off the field, Kirksey’s journey has had its fair share of obstacles.
“I have been David my whole life, facing Goliath my whole life. Whether it is my dad passing or other family members passing, just any trials and tribulations in life, I always overcame it,” Kirksey said.
Now, when people look at Kirksey, he hopes they see the man his father raised him to be. “I just want people to see me as a standup guy,” he said.
And thanks to a picture in a Browns shirt that once made little to no sense, Kirksey believes even though his father is not alive, he is still by his side.
Kirksey explained, “I think my dad was wearing that shirt for a reason. Just to say I am always around you, I am always here watching you. Cleveland is the place you should be.”