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'I Have a Dream': Vikings Reflect on MLK's Life & Legacy

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated 30 years before Alexander Mattison was born.

And yet Dr. King, who died at just 39 years old at the hands of a gunman in Memphis, Tennessee, left a legacy that is honored today and has impacted the life of Mattison and his Vikings teammates.

Mattison recently reflected on the life and message of King, who advanced civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience and who delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in March of 1963.

King's speech, Mattison said, showed all of humankind what it meant to dream of a better world.

"[It] showed us what the definition of having a dream is," Mattison said. "Growing up, I dreamt about being in the position that I am today. And I don't think that anyone would have an understanding of what it's like to have a dream and [pursue] that dream passionately if it weren't for a man like Martin Luther King – who, at the time, just defied all odds and overcame all adversity through the chase of that dream.

"If you look at me today, I'm the product of chasing that dream. You look at the guy to my left and the guy to my right in that locker room, they're all a product of chasing that dream," Mattison continued. "I think that it's only going to continue to grow. As people continue to chase their dreams in this world, in this community, things are going to continue to evolve. Dreams are worth chasing, and I think Martin Luther King showed us all that."

Vikings tight end Irv Smith, Jr., the son of a Black father and Hispanic mother, said he felt capable as a youngster in New Orleans because of the stances King took decades earlier.

"Martin Luther King definitely stated that, especially for young Black kids … in America, whatever you want to achieve, whatever you've set your mind to, you can go ahead and do that," Smith said. "Obviously making it to the NFL was definitely a dream for me, but honestly, it's only the start. There are so many things that – as a young Black man, as an athlete – I want to accomplish."

Added Smith: "Without him kind of changing the ways [things used to be], a lot of us athletes and us African Americans, we wouldn't be able to do the things we can do today."

There's no doubting the influence King had on America for the better. But, as seen glaringly through events of this past year, his work is not finished.

The Vikings have been committed to continuing King's efforts in fighting social injustice. Mattison and Smith, among many others in Minnesota's locker room, are grateful for the opportunity to make a positive difference.

Defensive end Jalyn Holmes hopes for the United States to come together during a time of division and hostility.

"My dream right now is just for everybody to see and take accountability for the things that are going on in this country – for people to come together and try to keep fighting for equality overall," Holmes said. "I feel like the country is very divided right now, for a lot of obvious reasons, and I just feel like people need to [listen to others' stories] and try to make everybody as equal as possible."

Holmes used the word "empowering" to describe the impact of King's words spoken nearly 60 years ago. 

"I feel like that speech set the way for people that look like me, that look like Irv, to be in the position that we are today," Holmes said. "[King] set the standard of leadership, and just that speech alone makes you want to do the right thing."

Mattison echoed the sentiments of his teammate.

Having grown up in San Bernardino, California, and understanding at a young age the struggles and disadvantages that so many people face, Mattison dreams of providing his future children with a better experience. 

"My parents were extremely strong and raised us through one of the toughest of environments, so I just have a dream of accomplishing all that I want to accomplish … but in doing so, I want to provide a better future for my family and have an impact on this earth," he said. "Whether that's small, whether that's big, I just want to have an impact and influence as many people as I can. I'm continuing to chase that dream.

"I've accomplished a big part of my dream, but there's a lot yet to come – and many more dreams have been awakened," Mattison added. "I'm continuing to chase those dreams, and I just hope that I can be a great man and be a role model to as many people as I can."