Even all these years later, Sam Acho can still remember the details perfectly of the first time that he decided to hide.
When he was just 12 or 13, he went to a midweek youth service at the church that his dad was a pastor at. Before the kids were split up by age groups, they all mingled together. And Acho, like any middle-schooler, wanted to look his best.
“For this Wednesday night service, I figured I’d dress to impress,” he said. “I had my red Tommy Hilfiger shirt, a pair of blue reversible Nautica shorts, and a pair of purple, for whatever reason I chose purple, FUBU shoes … I thought I was the man, and obviously, I wasn’t.”
The older high schoolers in attendance got one look at him, and immediately, the insults came in. “What are you wearing? Do you even know how to dress? Who are you?”
But the insults weren’t what got to Acho. It was when one kid stopped the others from messing around, reminding them that this was the son of a pastor.
“You would think that would be a moment where I said ‘yeah, you can’t talk about me!’ But if anything I felt even more shame because I said ‘oh no, now I’m really being seen and now they know who I am, oh what an embarrassment.’”
So, Acho got up and did what any middle schooler would: He hid. He headed for the nearest bathroom, locked himself in a stall, and waited for the age groups to break up. It became something he would do every week to avoid being seen. It started a lifelong trend of hiding, in more ways than just in a bathroom.
“Fast forward to playing in the NFL, no I wasn’t going to restroom stalls in locker rooms and hiding, but I was still hiding,” Acho said. “I wasn’t showing people the real me. The one who loves, the one who laughs, the one who smiles. At times I would, but at other times I would try to put on this mask of I’m this big tough guy. It wasn’t me.”
But Acho eventually learned how to be seen and to be your true self, and hopes to help others with this challenge through his book Let The World See You. Throughout the book, he tells the story of his life in the context of this topic, and it’s so much more than just the typical NFL story.
From his time at Texas and his battles balancing being someone who loves both learning and playing football, to the many things both on and off the field that shaped him in his time in the NFL, Acho hopes the stories can help people learn to be more comfortable being their true selves.
He especially hopes that middle school-age kids can learn to understand that you don’t have to hide. After all, that was the age when it all started for him. But maybe he wouldn’t have been so quick to run to the bathroom if he knew then what he does now.
“Understand that no one has it figured out. So you’re not alone. Nobody has it figured out,” he said. “People would love to make it seem like they’ve got it figured out, the popular kids, the cool kids, the athletes … People act like they have it all together. No one has it all together. So, I would just say you are not alone. You’re not alone and what you’re going through now is going to help shape you for the future.”