The Shining Moments
“When I was at BYU, I was not a great player, not by any stretch of the imagination. Actually, I was a backup player my entire time at BYU,” says now successful sportscaster and retired NFL football player, Vai Sikahema (BA ’02). “The interesting thing is this: my senior year, the starter got hurt in two games, and I came in to play those two games. I was the player of the game in just those two games, one at the beginning of the season, and one at the end. Both just happened to be on national TV,” he explains. “So the scout for the Arizona Cardinals that was responsible for drafting me wrote a report based on those two games that he watched on TV at some hotel room. Since he watched me play early in the season, and then watched my play again late in the season, I think he assumed I played that way the entire year!” Sikahema had no idea what he did in those two games would amount to what it did. He says, “This sounds nutty, but the Cardinals drafted me sight unseen based on this scout’s report.”
If Sikahema had to identify a turning point in his life, it would be those two games. But his life in sports began far before his senior year at BYU. “We didn’t know anything about football until we came up to America,” says Sikahema. As a child in Tonga, Sikahema’s father had hopes he would become a boxer. “His dream was that I would be the heavyweight champion of the world someday,” he relates. Everything changed when his family emigrated to the United States. “My parents emigrated first and left us with my grandparents because there wasn’t enough money for all of us to come together,” Sikahema explains. “They worked for a year before they sent for me. Then [it was] another two and a half years before my younger siblings came.” His family was separated for a total of three and a half years before they all made it to the U.S. “That’s an eternity for a young mother,” he recalls.
When his family was finally reunited in Arizona, Sikahema began playing football on his high school team. “I wanted to try football because it was a team sport. I had never really played team sports before,” says Sikahema. He quickly realized his talent for the sport and became one of the best on his team. He recalls, “I was fast, and I was tough from boxing. Then I started to get recruited.” In his four years at BYU, Sikahema continued to improve his football skills, but struggled in academic pursuits. In fact, when he left BYU to play for the Cardinals, he had not earned his degree. He explains his motivation to go back years later and finish his degree as a 40-year-old: “My mother liked sports, but she didn’t always understand it. What mattered to her was that I would serve a mission, that I would be a good husband and father, and that I would be a college graduate. So coming back to get my degree at BYU was fulfilling a promise I had made to her. And the fact that it happened at BYU, a Church-owned school, made it even more special.”
After playing in the NFL for eight years, Sikahema began a new career in sports broadcasting and became a well-known broadcaster in Philadelphia after playing for the Eagles in his final NFL seasons. Even though English is Sikahema’s second language, and he hadn’t yet earned his college degree, he managed to get a job in television. How did that happen? Sikahema says, “From my mission to South Dakota and serving with young men as companions who taught me diction and proper usage of language, verbs, and nouns. I learned how to speak from church callings, giving talks and speaking at firesides.” As a member of the Church, Sikahema found ways to serve others, and be taught, all at the same time. He has held multiple callings since retiring from the NFL, including young men’s president, bishop, counselor in the stake presidency, and stake president. He now serves as an Area Seventy.
Sikahema recognizes that his church life is not just something he does on Sunday. “When I was the bishop, we would have service projects and youth conference. The station would send over a camera to shoot me doing service projects with the youth. Then we would run it as a kicker on the news that night.” When asked if he has ever felt any pushback from audience members or coworkers he says, “Never.” In fact, the people he works the closest with “seem to welcome transparency in [their] personal lives.”
His involvement in the Philadelphia community has allowed Sikahema to make connections with city leaders, including former Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia. Years back, Sikahema was invited to attend a meeting with the Mayor and a team sent by the church to help approve the grounds in Philadelphia for a temple. At the time, Sikahema didn’t know his purpose in attending the meeting. But when the Mayor began to seem disinterested in the proposal for a temple, Sikahema had the distinct impression to “open [his] mouth and tell the mayor what happened to [his] family as a child with the temple.” When Sikahema was five years old living in Tonga, they sold everything, including pieces of their home, just to afford the day-and-a-half trip to New Zealand to attend the temple. He told his experience to the Mayor and was shocked as the spirit filled the room and the Mayor began listening much more intently to the temple presentation. At the end of the meeting, the Mayor even requested that one of the attendees offer a closing prayer. “It was at that moment I just wept. I just bowed my head and wept because I felt that the Lord had inspired that meeting.”
Whether it’s in football, broadcasting, education, or church service, Vai Sikahema always finds a way to lift those around him. Just last year, he opened the Vai Sikahema Foundation, which works to help adopted children achieve their educational goals. “It’s really just to help young people in general. We’re finding ways to help them be successful in their lives,” Sikahema says. But even without a large platform or help from a foundation, Sikahema believes all people can participate in service just by being a good friend, helping someone in their time of need, or sharing the gospel in simple ways. He says, “When we offer service, we provide service just because, with no expectations, no strings attached. I think that’s the way the Lord intends it.”