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Rod Payne

by Ruby Comer

You might as well goose me now and get it over with! I fume as the airport security guy checks me out, rather, over. The only weapon I have is my thong panties! Lordie me, travelin’ is such a hassle these days thanks to those sonsovbitches terrorists. Last week, an old girlfriend, Jan, invited me to her new habitat in the wilderness of Park Land, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. During my stay, Jan throws a family get-together, and I am attracted (not that way! Geez, my beau, Rudy is in the next room) to Rod, a real cutie with a linebacker’s build.

Indeed, Rod Payne, thirty, is an All-American. Raised in Miami, he played center at the University of Michigan from 1992–96, and then spent four years in the NFL. First playing with perennial losers, the Cincinnati Bengals, he capped off his career with the 2000 Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. After football, Rod taught special ed and now he is a managing partner of a gym in the area. He’s also a personal trainer, and a speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Currently, Rod and his best friend, Steve Rom (pictured right), a sports writer, are in the process of publishing a book about their friendship, Play To Inspire. Ms. Ruby speculates that it’ll soon be turned into a film.

Days later, Rod invites me to his gym, The Athletic Factor. During our one-on-one chat, he even lends a few weight lifting tips. When most people meet this guy, they usually see a muscled mass, but don’t be fooled. Inside, there is also a heart.

Ruby Comer: You certainly were there for Steve during his battle with leukemia. What a wonderful relationship you two have. 

Rod Payne: We’re kindred spirits. I know what it’s like, as I suffered many injuries and had many surgeries when I played pro ball. [He once broke his hand mid-game, had it reset and taped, and then went back in.] The sport gave me the opportunity to cherish teammates, and I see all people in this world as a part of my team.

More people need to adopt this attitude. Rod, what is your AIDS involvement?

Through football, I did a lot of benefits, and then I was a spokesman for United Way, which funded a lot of inner-city programs to educate kids on HIV prevention. I have friends who are HIV-positive, though AIDS has never really directly affected me. I do understand the stereotype, though, [attached to] those afflicted with AIDS and I abhor that kind of thinking. Our country needs to stand in arms against this epidemic. Nothing affects one group of people without affecting us all. Our society is so self-centered. It’s just a no-brainer to me [he shrugs].

If it isn’t in their backyard, they don’t care.

Ya know, we’re family. God didn’t make us to be divided. As a Christian, I believe that being gay, or whatever, does not negate anybody. I love that person; they get my full heart and support. That message has been lost on some Christian groups.

And just look at the differences between you and Steve….

It wasn’t that I’m a football player and he’s a reporter, or that I’m black and he’s white, or that I’m Christian and he’s Jewish—he’s my friend! He needed me, and I needed him. If you look at a person as your brother, you’re gonna see his struggles and be there to help him regardless of where he is. So many people are moved by our story because they hadn’t realized that we saw each other as brothers. We need to embrace our differences. I choose to love and support; let God figure out the rest. 

Precisely. What are your thoughts on AIDS?

When someone tells you that you have AIDS, how lonely is that? At this point, you need to know that you are not alone. A diagnosis of AIDS is a reality check. It refines your life in fire. It polarizes everything about what you think your life is supposed to be; yet it liberates. People find out what the important things in life are. AIDS is an issue for the “village” and it’s for people to conquer, not for the individual. Life is about our human community. I live and die by that philosophy.

Get inspired at Rod Payne’s Web site by logging on to www.playtoinspire.com. Read the full interview at www.aumag.org.

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at MsRubyComer@aol.com.

April 2005