June 23, 2021

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Chicago Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin a…

4 min read
Chicago Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin a...

Work ethic was instilled early

Medlin clearly didn’t reach the summit of his profession—and remain there for decades—due to compassion alone. He also boasts an unmatched work ethic that he learned from his mother, Parthenia, while growing up in Hope Mills, N.C., a small town with a population just under 16,000 that’s located about seven miles southwest of Fayetteville.

Parthenia was a single mom to nine children—after Tony’s father passed away when he was a year old. As a kid, Tony marveled at how his mother provided for her seven sons and two daughters. “I really owe it all to my mother because she inspired us all to work hard,” he said.

Medlin’s willingness to work was evident when he became a student manager at North Carolina Central University as a freshman in 1978. His job entailed not only distributing and maintaining all of the equipment but making travel plans and preparing for road trips.

“That was a lot of responsibility for a young man, but he always just seemed to be more mature than his age,” said John Outlaw, a former NFL defensive back who served as North Carolina Central’s assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at the time. “There was a lot that he had to do along with carrying a full load of classes.”

Outlaw recalled that Medlin’s organizational skills were second to none.

“He was very organized and well respected by the entire staff and the players even though they were the same age,” Outlaw said. “That was a thing that really impressed me about Tony. He was always the first one to be on the job and the last one to leave. If you told him something had to be done, you could always count on him to get it done.”

Medlin was proud to attend a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). When he graduated from North Carolina Central in 1982, he was hired as the school’s athletic equipment manager, a job he held until he joined the Bears in 1987.

Greg Tate was a linebacker at NCCU in the mid-’80s when he became friends with Medlin—and continues to cherish that relationship more than three decades later.

“Tony was like another coach to us,” Tate said. “He was a mentor. If we were doing something wrong, Tony would be the guy, if he saw us on campus, he would say, ‘You know you’re wrong, you need to do this right.'”

Tate went on to become a Maryland state trooper and later a member of the U.S. Secret Service responsible for protecting President Barack Obama. Tate now works as a director of corporate security for the NBA. Asked to identify Medlin’s greatest asset, Tate said: “I would say his integrity. Tony is a country guy at heart. He’s just a genuine, good person. I’ve always appreciated him as a mentor to me. He’d always tell me, ‘I’m so proud of you,’ and I’d be like, ‘Tony, I’m proud of you and your accomplishments.'”

Goodell helped pave path to NFL

Interestingly, the one person who is perhaps most responsible for Medlin’s move from North Carolina Central to the Bears is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Working in an administrative position with the league in 1987, Goodell was responsible for finding qualified candidates to serve as NFL equipment managers and assistants. Medlin interviewed over the phone with Goodell and was then instructed to call the Bears.

Gary Haeger had just been promoted from assistant equipment manager to head equipment manager and needed to hire an assistant. Medlin interviewed with Bears executive Bill McGrane as well as Haeger. A few weeks later, McGrane called to offer Medlin the job.

“I was so thrilled,” Medlin said. “It was like a scary moment and a happy moment all in one. It was scary because I had never been away from home that far, but it was a great opportunity.”

Medlin was a 25-year-old about to join a veteran team that had just won the Super Bowl two years earlier. But he was relieved when he received a warm reception from coach Mike Ditka and players such as Walter Payton, Richard Dent, Matt Suhey, Willie Gault, Otis Wilson and Ron Rivera, among others. Medlin was especially excited when he was invited to dinner by Ditka as part of a large group during training camp in Platteville, Wis.

“The guys really welcomed me,” Medlin said. “That was the greatest feeling. They made me feel like family.”