A4I: Graham perseveres despite family struggles


T.J. Graham is the son of two high-level track athletes. His father was a silver medalist in the 1988 Olympics and his mother earned All-American honors in college.  Both parents are track coaches.  His father coached Olympic athletes, including Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery.  T.J.’s impressive athletic lineage placed added pressure as he pursued his own athletic career.

The pressure increased when his father got caught up in one of sports’ biggest steroid scandals, known as the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) scandal. The U.S. Olympic committee ultimately banned T.J.’s dad, Trevor Graham, from its facilities after many of the athletes he coached tested positive for steroids. He also received a one-year house arrest sentence following his conviction of lying to federal investigators.  As a result of his father’s involvement in the scandal, community members and classmates ridiculed and ostracized T.J. and his family.

Despite the turmoil, T.J. flourished as an athlete at Wakefield High School in North Carolina. He used the adversity as motivation, winning state championships in the 100 and 200 meters in track and placing third in the 100 meters at Nike Nationals. He received many scholarship offers for track but his passion was football.

The North Carolina native stayed close to home, attending NC State, where he broke the ACC record for most kickoff return yards. It wasn’t until his senior year that he started at the receiver position. After catching seven touchdown passes his senior year, the Bills drafted him with the 69th pick in the 2012 draft. The milestone was a breath of fresh air for T.J. and his family, who faced many challenges as a result of the BALCO scandal.

Ironically, T.J. credits his family’s involvement in the scandal for his confidence in facing adversity and his ability to stay both humble and hungry as a professional athlete.

The second-year NFL receiver reached his goal of making it to the NFL. Now he is raising the bar, aiming to be the best professionally he can be, while enjoying the process along the way.

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