By Michael C. Wright
History, politics and Greek mythology – Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Pashos is into all of it.
In this Q*amp;A with the Times-Union, Pashos describes his upbringing, his parents and his views on enhancing Americas educational system:
Question: Is it true you speak three languages?_I picked up a little bit of German from playing [in] NFL Europe, but I wouldnt say Im fluent. Greek is my first language. My parents taught me that. Obviously, they were Greek immigrants. They felt like they could teach me Greek and the school teachers could teach me English. Ive had very good teachers, very good speech path[ology].
Q: Did you learn English as a second language?_Oh yeah. My mom and dad didnt graduate high school so they were born and raised in Greece. What they could teach me was our culture, but I learned everything else from the school system and American culture.
Q: What was it like growing up in Illinois speaking Greek as your first language?_It was different. When I went to school and everything, it felt like I was in America. But the moment I came home and opened my door, I was back in Greece. The food I was eating, the language, the culture, even my church, it was true … you know when people start using two words to describe themselves, Native-American, Polish American? I was a true and still am a Greek-American. You know, I grew up on both sides of the ball. Thats the way I see it.
Q: Your father, Georgios, is a foreman at a steel mill. Is he tough?_Hes high energy. My dad started working when he was 8 years old. He was bringing home money for his home in Greece. Then they immigrated here in 72 and he picked up with a steel factory called Ryerson in Chicago and hes worked there ever since. The thing is, thats a hard job and theres long hours. The biggest lessons of my life, Ive learned through watching the older people in my family, mom, dad and grandparents. I remember the days when my dad was fainting at home from lack of sleep or the stress of being in a different country and barely making ends meet. I remember what it feels like to hear your father fall down in the shower and your mom screaming. Hes revived, gets a meal, takes two hours rest and hes back out going to work. So he taught me a lot. Maybe my dad doesnt know the math or the geometry and doesnt have the book smarts, but to me, hes one of the biggest heroes of my life. He taught me everything, in my opinion, what it takes to be a man. In his job, hes maybe not seen as anything spectacular to anyone else. But my dad, he was going to be the best he could be. That was his job and thats what he needed to do to feed us.
Q: From where in Greece did your folks immigrate to the U.S.?_Hes from inner-city Athens, very poor. They didnt really have much there. My mom [Despina] was from the islands and her father was able to find work as a prison guard, so they had a little bit to their name. On my moms side, my grandpa is one of 18 kids and they were all poor. But they worked hard and got their way out [of poverty]. He was transferred to Athens late in his career and thats where my mom and dad met.
Q: Coming over to a new country, how hard was it for your folks to make ends meet?_There were a lot of pass-me-downs [between me and my two older brothers, Bob and George]. We value a lot. Just having clean shoes was so important it seemed. You knew the [shoes] were used twice. My brother would use them and it was very important for him to keep them clean for me and for me to keep them clean for as long as possible so I dont have to ask mom to spend money on my shoes. She needed to spend money on our food, on our home, you know, the mortgage and stuff like that. But as hard as it was, now looking back, I feel like Ive been rich my whole life. When your parents are there for you and they love you and you have a home, you can find people with the most of money and they have empty homes and empty lives. But we had church, we had school, we had our mom and dad and their way of showing love to me was their willingness to sacrifice their lives for me. I feel like Ive been rich my whole life.
Q: How will that affect the way you treat your kids, should you decide to settle down and have some?_Shoot, I tell my girlfriend now, Man, when we get married I dont want my kids thinking that daddy doesnt work hard or anything. I told my girlfriend, Maybe I should get a job as a postman. Then the kids could see me get up and get out of the house. I could work, use my legs and what not and then come home and have that routine like I had growing up where dad was always gone working, then we came home together at dinner. I definitely need to teach my kids the value of hard work, discipline and just the whole attitude that my father, my family, as well as 99 percent of this country is built on and thats to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It really does mean something. I use it with my career and my life and my fathers used it in his life. Everybody around me has. There are a million stories in this locker room about guys that have been dealt a tough card. But they keep going. You cant sit there and pout on your situation.
Q: Did having a tough childhood inspire you to become an honor student in high school and college, so youd have a better shot of landing a good job?_Oh my god. Its one thing for your parents to tell you to do great in school so you get a good job. But [its another] when your father comes home and its his third day without sleeping or you see your mom with bags under her eyes and hear them saying, Hey, dont be like us. Do it the easier way. Be good in school. They didnt go to school, so the opportunities werent there for them. So I tried to take advantage of all the opportunities. My dad let me know that I didnt want to do what he did, put in mountains of hours at a factory. He used to always tell us about how much more time they wouldve liked to have spent with us, but they couldnt because they were working hard.
Q: You got your real estate license a few years ago. Is real estate something youre considering after football?_Yeah, I got it I think my second year as a Raven. The real estate boom was going nuts. I wanted partly to educate myself in the real estate market for the future when I wanted to buy a house. I wanted to know what I was getting into and I wanted to see if I would enjoy it. I was putting everything I could into football, but you really need to prepare yourself for life after. I wanted to see if it was something I could jump into if God forbid, I ever wound up on the streets. Im glad I did it. Last year, I wanted to take the LSAT [to get into law school] or at least study for it so I could one day take that. I havent come across that just yet. But I love education.
Q: You love politics and history too, right?_Id love to be a politician. I feel like at that position, I could do so much good for so many people just because Im willing to fight for that person that really doesnt have a voice or the guy thats like my dad or my mom or some of my friends or teammates Ive seen over the years. I was a history major and I idolize some of the characters in history. One that I [idolize] is Abraham Lincoln. Politicians like that who are real, who did things more for the benefit of people … and the country instead of the benefit of the polls or big business, theyre not that many out there. Im a republican now, but where I differ is that – now that youve got a glimpse of me and how I feel about education – I think education can be the savior for everybodys lives. I would love to drop resources into changing the way we look at education in this country from the grade school levels on up.
Q: How would you do it?_Im not so big on inner-city this, suburbs that. To me, flesh is flesh. Children are children. If I cant give them the best opportunities, the best schools, the most ambitious teachers, then how good is our Declaration [of Independence] where it says that everybody is equal? Lets spend the money, lets spend the resources and truly give kids an opportunity. Let them decide whether they should follow the path of success or unsuccessfulness in this country. Now youve got me on a whole rant here. Im ready to run for Congress.
Q: Its not a problem, go on. What are your views on the state of politics?_I sit back and read up on politics and I can kind of read between the lines and really see what some candidates are all about. I really wish they did more for the American, the people, the flesh, not so much demographics and things like that. You know how people like to break it up. If a candidate is speaking in Iowa, hes talking about this. If hes speaking in inner-city [Washington,] D.C., theyre talking about inner-city problems. No, I want the best for all. Im not gonna change topics because of where Im at or what Im doing. To me, the American people and the young people in this world need every opportunity they can receive to let them decide where theyre gonna end up in life. Lets not just start them off at the bottom. When I studied education [in college] at Illinois, I learned that Du Sable high in inner-city Chicago receives like next to nothing per year [approximately $15,000 per student] to educate its children. You can go 30 or 40 miles west to New Trier [in Winnetka, IL] or one of these other high schools and the [school district] spends [approximately $25,000 per pupil]. So while this whole country is based upon equality, how do you figure that these kids in the inner city arent worth as much as the ones out there [in the suburbs]? Politically how do you fix that? I dont know. You stir heads, you make cuts. You change people. You pound the table and get things done.
Im not saying take away from the privileged kids because theyre parents work just as hard as anyone else. But Ill be [darned] if that kid [in the inner city] doesnt get the best opportunities, too. Thats one of the biggest things Id strive for. I dont see any sense in spending millions and billions and whatever it is on the prisons which are at the tail end of the problem. Lets spend those millions and billions on making those schools in those [inner-city] neighborhoods the best schools in the world. The best, from the trees outside to the books in the classroom, thats the way I see it.
Q: So when are you announcing your candidacy?_[Laughing] Shoot I dont know. But Id love to. Whether I do or not, who knows?
Q: Youre also into Greek mythology. What makes it so interesting to you?_I love the stories about the heroics of it. But also, each and every one of those stories contains huge lessons. I could remember hearing the stories of Icarus and Daedalus and these guys who tried to fly. Then the Gods taught them a lesson. Everything had a lesson. It was pretty neat as a kid growing up and thats another thing I have pride about in my culture. Who wouldnt want to be Hercules? The guy is amazing and Zeus was powerful and all these other cool things. Theres mysticism about it. If youve ever been to Greece youd see the country invites imagination and things like that. I could see where the ancients could come up with stories about why the ocean does this, why the mountains were formed, and why certain caves were the birthplace of certain people. Its pretty neat.
Q: When youre done playing, what will you miss most about football?_A couple of things. Of course the competition, theres nothing like it. This is such a high level of competition and the wins and losses mean so much. That in itself keeps you going. You want to be the best. But then, Id also miss the camaraderie. There are a lot of people in here from many different backgrounds, and many locations with different stories. But were all a family. Theres something about being in a bond with people. [Teammate Brad Meester raises his shirt in the background, then starts rubbing his stomach and heckling Pashos]. See when you work for IBM, nobody peels around the desk and lifts their shirt up. Thats what Im gonna miss right there, seeing Brad Meesters hairy chest [laughing]. Theres no job in corporate America where a teammate right there could just come in like that and jaw in and have fun with me like that. Thats what youll miss, the camaraderie and the competition of this whole thing. Will I sit at home missing Wednesday training camp practices at 1:30? I dont think so.
Q: You were around some great players while you were in Baltimore. Did you learn anything from any of those guys?_Man, each and every high-caliber player Im around, I like to take certain things from. I was blessed to play with Deion Sanders. He is the truth. There are things I took from him. There are some guys in this locker room that are truly tremendous players that you try to learn from: their work ethic, their passion, where they get it from and their lifestyle. I remember how tremendous Deion was about his body. I started playing with him when he was 37 or 38 and he was extra cautious about his body and took care of it. Thats why he is who he is.
Q: Youve taken a little criticism recently about the way youve been playing. Would you say youve struggled?_I would say no. Do you play well sometimes and bad other times? Of course. Constantly every game, every play, I try to do better than the last time. When [Florida] coach [Billy] Donovan came in here and talked to us as a guest speaker, one of the things he said was to live in the moment. He coached two national championship teams and thats what he told his players. You have bad plays, but you forget about it and move on. Thats what I do.
Q: You signed a five-year contract worth $24 million. Was it important to do something big for your parents?_Absolutely, the money has been amazing. Its life-altering money. I respect it even more because I know it can open doors for me and my family. I always told myself Id take care of my mom and my dad as soon as I could. The first thing I did was I paid off my moms house and remodeled the whole thing. I feel like they sacrificed everything, so I gave right back to them. Anything they need, they know Im a phone call away and theyre taken care of. Now theyre the type of people that have a lot of pride and would never ask for things. But after that, Ive just lived simply. Im not really spending a lot of cash. Its one of the hardest things on Earth to earn, so Im not quick to spend it.
Q: Youre pretty close to your family and speak to your mom and dad nearly every day. Other than your childhood, were there any significant events that brought the family closer together? Or is that closeness just a function of Greek culture?_Well, I learned a hard lesson when I was 17. We had opened a little fast-food shop in Chicago and my mom was working late. Two guys walked in, it was a gang-initiation thing, and they almost murdered her. That night, I remember saying to myself, that if she died tonight, you couldnt give me the world to replace what she meant to me. It happened the night before my senior banquet for sports in high school. It was a wakeup call about how fast you could lose someone. So Im sitting there at my senior banquet the next night, and look back and think, Oh my God, my moms here. Just yesterday, she got shot at. Tonight shes here with tears in her eyes because shes so proud of me. My value and everything lies with my family and not the materialistic stuff. My second year in the NFL, I came back from a workout and my dads having a heart attack on me, and Im the one rushing him to the emergency room. So Ive seen how fast someone can be taken from you. So I now value even more those relationships with the important people in my life.
Q: How scary was your fathers heart attack?_I tried to be as in control as I could be. But when hes next to you sweating and screaming and in pain its tough. Hes yelling at me to blow past these red lights and stuff and I was trying to coast through them. Looking back, it was scary. He couldve died right next to me.
Q: Was your dad a strict disciplinarian?_No, my mom was. She was the one that hit us hard when we were younger. She didnt spare the rod at all. It was rough with her. People laugh now when I tell them about her because they meet my mom and shes so nice. But man, she beat the tar out of us [laughing]. My oldest brother got it probably the worst. I remember one time she didnt think the way he was acting was respectful enough to our family. So she stripped him down to his underwear and told him he could go sleep outside like a dog since he wanted to act like one. One time I said, Eww I dont want to eat this” at the dinner table. My folks and family actually were starving and stuff in Greece, so my mom made sure that I starved that night. She said, If you dont like it, get up and leave. I left. I came back down later that night hungry and she put that same plate in front of me. So I went to bed. The next morning she put those same beans in front of me again. I ate them up so fast [laughing]. Ive never said anything like that since.