Whether it’s playing football, giving back to his community, or just being a dad, there’s a very good reason New York Giants offensive lineman David Diehl has had the success he’s had in his 32 years of life.
That’s because whatever Diehl does, the spirit of his father, Jerry, Sr., who passed away from a heart attack in 2003, Diehl’s rookie season, drives him to do it the right way.
Growing up on the Southside of Chicago, IL, Diehl, one of three boys in what he described as a “blue collar” family, learned very early from his father that those who weren’t afraid of a little hard work and sacrifice would be able to enjoy longstanding success and not those who expected things to be handed to them on a silver platter or who seek to cut corners.
“When it came to doing things with everything, my father punched the clock every day,” Diehl said. “Regardless of what you do, you do it to the best of your ability and you never quit. If you start something, you finish it. You always give your best effort.”
Diehl recalled how his father would put in the long, grueling hours at his job, and how when he came home after a day that began at five in the morning and didn’t end until around 6:30 at night, the man he still looks up to today would instantly become renewed.
“For him to work as hard as he did and to never see him complain even after a long day of work, that was something,” said Diehl, who keeps the memory of his father alive by writing his initials “JAD” on the gloves he wears every game.
“When he came home he’d spend time with the family, with me and my two older brothers. He’d help us with homework, and be a dad. He taught me a lot about being a parent, that when you have a child, it’s not about you anymore; it’s doing everything you can to give your kid the best opportunity to succeed in life.”
Those are lessons that Diehl has taken not just to football, but also to his role as a father to his young daughter, Addison, who every time the hulking 6-5, 304 lb. offensive lineman mentioned her name, would beam with pride.
“She never got to meet my father, but the lessons I’m teaching her about values and working hard and dedication and giving everything your best each day are starting to take,” Diehl said.
“This summer she swam competitively for the first time, and she won her freestyle race. I’ll never forget the feeling when she said afterwards, ‘Daddy, all my hard work paid off.’ To hear her say that — it was something my father would say and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life because at that moment, she realized that all the practice she did and that enjoyment of holding that ribbon and being in first place hit her.”
Between having the support of his family growing up and being a parent himself, Diehl has applied the lessons he’s learned off the field to his philanthropic efforts. The gentle Giant is one of the most actively involved members of the team in tri-state area organizations, with one of his primary projects being Project Sunshine, a nonprofit organization that provides free educational, recreational, and social programs to children and families living with medical challenges.
“I always wanted to become involved doing things with kids, especially after I had my daughter,” Diehl said. “I know that when my daughter has a cold, I’d change anything I could to make it go away. So when I see these parents who have children fighting terminal illnesses, it moves me to want to do what I can to help these kids smile, relax, and enjoy themselves, and be able to create an environment to where they’re not thinking about their illnesses or treatments so they can be kids again.”
He has also teamed up with Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., in the city’s Newark Mentor Movement, which teams adult volunteers with youths whose circumstances might make the allure of substance abuse or crime more appealing, and provides those youths with a structured program to help them focus on being active, contributing members to society.
“I grew up having my mother and father around, so I know what it was like to have role models to follow,” Diehl said. “Some kids don’t have that, so if you can come and help and make an impact on their lives and help them set goals, it’s something that can change their lives forever.”
Diehl’s strong desire to make a difference in the lives of others is a large reason why the Giants’ fifth-round draft pick in 2003 is very giving of his time with fans, especially young children who seek his autograph or a picture with him.
“Being a New York Giant means the world to me, but most of all, I’m a human being with feelings and who makes mistakes, like everyone else. I understand what it’s like to deal with those things and I understand what it’s like to be a father; that takes priority over anything.”
However, that doesn’t mean that football is any less important to him, especially these days when he finds himself in a battle to hold off first round pick Justin Pugh and third-year man James Brewer from taking away his starting right tackle job.
For Diehl, the two-time Super Bowl champion who was voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2009 a season after finishing as a first alternate in 2008, the lessons he learned from his father are at the foundation of his desire to silence his critics.
“You’ve got to earn everything; that’s the way I’ve always approached it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what year you are in the NFL–you have to establish yourself, you have to create you identity, and you have to prove yourself to everybody else that you’re the starter.
“Most importantly, you’ve got to prove to yourself what you’re capable of doing, and go out there with the confidence that you’re going fight and play to the best of your ability. I know, coming off last season, being 100 percent healthy like I am now, the way I changed my diet, the way I conditioned, everything I did going into the season, I have never been more ready to play football in my life.”
While it hasn’t always been a smooth ride for Diehl, who has been one of the most candid players to have donned a Giants uniform in the last decade, at the end of the day, he takes pride in the fact that he can look in the mirror and know that whether it was being a parent, being a role model, or being a football player, his father would have been proud.
“I know that every day of my life, I give it my all, just like my dad taught me,” Diehl said. “I don’t live life with regrets.”