How a gift of shoes from Elder Sikahema changed the life of former NFL lineman Barrett Brooks

Brooks is the ESPN commentator for the BYU-USF game

When college football fans tune in to ESPN’s coverage of the Brigham Young University-South Florida game Saturday, Sept. 3, they will see former NFL lineman Barrett Brooks in the booth.

Brooks, who played at Kansas State and in the NFL from 1995-2006, is a close friend of a notable BYU alum and former NFL player, Elder Vaiangina Sikahema, who now serves as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Vaiangina Sikahema and Barrett Brooks speak together at an event in Utah several years ago.
Elder Vaiangina Sikahema, a General Authority Seventy, and former NFL lineman, now ESPN commentator Barrett Brooks speak together at an event in Utah several years ago. | Don Peay

Their friendship all started with a pair of shoes.

When Brooks was around 10 or 11 years old in the late 1980s, his uncle would take him to Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri, where kids could sometimes meet players for the NFL’s Cardinals.

Related Stories
Divinely inspired confidence lifts former pro football player, broadcaster Elder Vai Sikahema
Elder Vaiangina Sikahema: ‘A House of Sequential Order’

One of those players was young Elder Sikahema, a punt and kickoff return specialist. One day as he approached the stadium, Elder Sikahema noticed Brooks.

“He always stood out for one simple reason,” Elder Sikahema said while telling the story to NFL Films. “He was wearing a pair of shoes that was clearly too small for his feet. So he had taken a razor and he had cut the toes, the top of the shoe off, and he had socks on but you see that his toes were sticking out. It was late in the season, so it was cold.”

Elder Sikahema invited Brooks into the locker room and asked for his size of shoe. Brooks wore a size 12 but was wearing shoes that were size 10 and a half. Elder Sikahema grabbed a pair of Roos turf shoes so he could wear them as tennis shoes. The brand was popular because it was endorsed at the time by famous Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton.

Elder Sikahema did not know how much this seemingly small kindness meant to young Brooks, who followed his career closely after that day.

Several years later, Brooks was selected in the 1995 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. As the new draft picks were introduced to the news media, Brooks spotted Elder Sikahema, who was then a local TV reporter.

Brooks introduced himself but Elder Sikahema didn’t recognize him.

“Welcome to Philadelphia,” he said. “Second round pick, that’s pretty cool.”

“No bro,” Brooks said. “You gave me my first pair of shoes, you gave me the Roos, man. Remember the Roos?”

Elder Sikahema was dumbfounded. “You have got to be kidding me.”

Brooks rejoiced, telling his childhood hero that he could now afford any pair of shoes.

The relationship didn’t end there.

Following Brooks’ NFL career, Elder Sikahema helped him transition to television broadcasting at the same station where he worked.

At one point, Elder Sikahema and his wife, Sister Keala Sikahema, hosted Brooks and his wife, Sonji, in Utah where they gave them a tour of Temple Square and BYU.

When Elder Sikahema was serving as a stake president, he invited Brooks to speak to youth at a stake fireside.

The Sikahemas read the Book of Mormon with the Brooks and their five daughters every time they host them for dinner. Elder Sikahema describes Barrett as a “great husband and father.”

Elder Sikahema and Brooks once told the “shoes story” at the church of former Eagles’ player Irving Fryar, where he serves as pastor. Brooks called some boys from the congregation, gave them shoes to grow into and then spoke about what it means to “grow into shoes” and become a man.

Elder Vaiangina Sikahema, left center, stands next to Barrett Brooks, right center, at a church where the story of the shoes.
Elder Vaiangina Sikahema, left center, stands next to Barrett Brooks, right center, at a church where the story of the shoes was shared. Brooks in turn gave shoes to the boys shown here. | Screenshot from NFL Films

“I want those youth to understand that you never know who’s going to be there to help you out,” Brooks said in the video. “And when they help you out, you’ve got to do the same thing in return, pay it forward.”

Brooks considers Elder Sikahema to be like a second father.

“Guys like him, they come once in a lifetime,” Brooks said.

Elder Sikahema isn’t just proud of Brooks for what he’s accomplished in his career.

“I’m proud of Barrett for who he is, for the kind of person that he became,” the church leader said. “I’m proud of the kind of husband and kind of father that he is. That’s what has cemented our relationship.”

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed