After a successful multi-year career in the NFL, Garry Gilliam returned to his hometown of Harrisburg to spark change in the community. The Penn State and Milton Hershey graduate uses that foundation to guide his community work with The Bridge, focused on attacking oppression from all angles: education, infrastructure, sustainability and opportunity.
The former football player joined The Sports Extra Podcast to talk about his work with The Bridge, his Penn State career and his memories of playing in the NFL (including scoring a touchdown on a trick play in the NFC Championship game).
During the interview, our Allie Berube asked him some quick-hitting questions to get Gilliam’s thoughts.
Quick Hits with Garry Gilliam
What are your thoughts on Name, Image, Likeness changes in college athletics?
College athletes head into the first season where they can profit off their personal brands while still competing in the NCAA structure. Some have expressed excitement at the possibility of making money through autographs, appearances and brand deals. However, Gilliam says the change in NIL policy isn’t totally a good thing without structure.
“So if you’re going to start providing opportunities to those college kids to leverage their name and persona to make money and monetize, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that per say,” Gilliam said. “But just make sure that they are required to be in certain courses before they get access to funds or the funds are in escrow accounts and drip out periodically or put into an investment vehicle.”
He suggests a focus on protecting the money for student athletes to use after their collegiate careers are done.
“Dropping the bag for somebody who doesn’t have and hasn’t had generationally the education to properly use those funds is a recipe for disaster,” Gilliam said.
What would you tell your high school self?
Gilliam says he was given a piece of advice from a spiritual leader at Milton Hershey School, Mrs. Ainsworth. He called her while attending Penn State and battling through multiple injuries that kept him out of football for half of his college career.
“Through all my injuries I was kind of low, bad and I wasn’t trying to play football anymore,” Gilliam said. “[Mrs. Ainsworth] was like my second mom and definitely a spiritual mentor. As soon as she picked up the phone, I just busted out crying.”
She gave him a piece of advice he says he would probably want to tell himself earlier in life.
“She goes ‘God gives the hardest battles to the strongest soldiers,'” Gilliam recalled. “What you’re currently going through you may not understand it, and you’re not supposed to, but it will be a testimony to the soldiers you lead one day. Life is going to give you extremely hard things to go through,” Gilliam concludes. “But trust me, they’re going to be worth it in the future.”
What is your Starbucks order?
Despite playing in Seattle and doing a guest barista visit at the first-ever Starbucks, Gilliam does not drink coffee.
“My Starbucks order would be some tea,” Gilliam said. “Like passionfruit tea or something like that.”
Podcast host Allie Berube and Gilliam agree, however, not to get too fancy with your Starbucks orders.
“You get in here and make that,” Gilliam joked. “That’s disrespectful. Go home and make that. Don’t be over here with all that extra.”
Do you believe taunting has a place in the game or does not have a place in the game?
To start, Gilliam wants a clarification on taunting vs. passion.
“Players have to realize that can’t do [a celebration] at another player,” Gilliam said.
He agrees that players can’t throw a ball at someone, do a gesture towards an opponent, or even excessive jawing at another player.
“Taunting, there’s no place in any athletics for taunting,” Gilliam said. “It’s just not good sportsmanship. But passion and excitement for what just happened, as long as you have the consciousness and mindfulness to not do it in someone’s face, I don’t think you should be penalized for that.”
How will Penn State football be in 2021?
“I think they would have done way better last year if there was more clarity and certainty on the whole COVID-19 situation,” Gilliam said. “That’s a lot to have some players, not have some players, not think you’re going to play then to come back… That’s tough.”
Gilliam says as for the 2021 season, Penn State will be just fine.
“They’re a great football team with great coaches and great fans,” Gilliam said. “I could probably go be the head football coach – not that Coach [James] Franklin doesn’t do a great job – but that team has the pieces that it needs, and they know how to play football, I think they’ll be a good team.”
Gilliam knows that tradition of excellence began long before the 2021 team has a chance to take the field.
“It’s the standard of Penn State,” Gilliam continues. “You will be a Top-25 team and you will graduate over 90 percent of your football players. And that’s consistent through, I believe, whoever becomes a football coach or player. That’s a Penn State standard.”
What are three words to describe yourself?
“I am Garry.”
The man has jokes but he takes a few minutes to pick just three: intentional, caring and scholar/leader.
What is next for you?
“It’s funny you say that because that was always our mantra in Seattle: what’s next?” Gilliam says.
To listen to more of our conversations with Garry Gilliam, you have to listen to The Sports Extra Podcast wherever you find podcasts, or right here.
Meet the voices behind the podcast: Allie Berube and Logan Reever. The Sports Extra Podcast is designed to bring listeners closer to the games, teams and athletes they love. The podcast will dive deeper than the hosts can go on TV.
The Sports Extra Podcast releases episodes every Thursday. The goal is to talk about national sports with a local flair. Allie & Logan bring guests on each week to share their perspectives on sports.
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