COSTA MESA — The trip was worth it.
This past weekend, Antonio Gates flew from California to Ohio, taking time off from the Chargers’ training camp to honor a former Chargers great. The tight end watched as his former teammate, LaDainian Tomlinson, officially entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame — becoming one of the 310 names enshrined at the game’s highest echelon.
A few days earlier, Tomlinson told reporters he had finished preparing for the ceremony: “I think you’ll enjoy the speech.”
He was right. On Saturday night, the 38-year-old shared the story of his great-great-great grandfather, George, who inherited his last name Tomlinson from the slaveholder who owned him. He acknowledged the cruelty of such history, but also used it to try and unite his audience. Nearly all Americans, he said, have roots beyond these shores.
“America is the land of opportunity,” Tomlinson said. “Let’s not slam the doors on those who may look or sound different from us. Rather, let’s open it wide for those who believe in themselves that anything is possible and are willing to compete and take whatever risk necessary to work hard to succeed.”
That message of opportunity resonated with Gates, a Detroit native who said his time in Southern California has exposed him to a variety of different cultures.
“I thought it spoke volumes, not just to sports but to people in general,” Gates said Tuesday. “I understood where he was coming from. … It was well said. Well said from a person that truly, sincerely believes that in his heart.”
Someday, Gates will likely make a speech of his own. The 37-year-old tight end is now the team’s longest-tenured player, and is nearing the end of a career that has included eight Pro Bowls. He has 111 touchdown catches, and needs just one more to set a new career record at his position.
Seeing all those gold jackets in Canton? That only motivated him to push for more.
“To me, it’s a lifetime achievement award,” Gates said. “The honor of being around them, the honor of being around their fellow Hall of Famers — to me, I embraced it all. The energy and the idea of, one day, I’ll get a chance to wear that jacket.
“But needless to say, I don’t think too far ahead. I’ve still got things I focus on during the…