“Our world changed in many devastating ways on Sept. 11, 2001. Yet from the rubble of that tragic day came the positive of a heightened appreciation for first responders, the men and women who put their lives on the line when the lives of others are in danger.”1
(Nancy Brown, CEO of American Heart Association)
No one likes waiting in line, sitting in traffic or waiting at the doctor’s office – but none of that matters when something truly tragic happens. Daily life pauses when your neighbor has a heart attack, your friend’s house catches on fire, a city breaks out into riots, or terrorists threaten peace. Those moments of panic bring what’s important into focus.
When I was growing up, the term “first responders” held less weight. As a society, we have come to realize the vital necessity of those brave souls, the boots on the ground, the women and men who stand up and run towards the danger when everyone else is seeking safety.
For the anniversary of 9/11, we are honoring first responders with a Something Significant interview with Shawn Rogers, a 28-year veteran of the Sacramento Police Department. Shawn is a close friend of the Happy Living family – he played football with Matt back in college at UC Davis! We think you will find his story as inspiring and heartwarming as we do…
1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got where you are today?
My name is Shawn Rogers. I was born and raised in Vallejo, California. I attended UC Davis and studied managerial economics. I played football and ran track. After graduation I had tryouts with three professional football teams: the Denver Broncos, the Houston Gamblers (USFL) and the San Francisco 49ers.
I have worked for the Sacramento City Police Department since 1987. I’ve worked in patrol, as a field training officer, a bicycle officer and a canine officer. When I was promoted to sergeant, I worked patrol, motors, backgrounds and recruiting. Three years ago I was promoted to Lieutenant and was a watch commander where I was in charge of 40 officers and the entire city of Sacramento at night. Now, I’m in Contract and Youth Services.
2. How has significance played a role in your journey?
My parents taught me that integrity, empathy, education, hard work and dedication were all very significant in building a successful life. They taught me right from wrong. When I did wrong, I got a spanking. But I learned fast. They only had to tell me once. My parents instilled in me the value of work and helping others. I was always working on chores, odd jobs, or helping my grandmother on her property.
Both of my parents were great role models. They are both deceased from cancer. At my mom’s funeral, I found out she was the valedictorian of her high school and her college. My dad served in the Army. He was an MP at one point.
I try to instill these same values in others. I believe in mentoring. I am active with the young officers and children in Youth Services. I teach the leaders of Youth Services to make sure they understand they are important role models for our kids. Helping others is a legacy I can leave to honor my parents.
3. Was there a specific moment or situation when you became aware of those things that are most significant to you?
A few big events made me aware of what is most significant to me…
After being cut by the 49ers, I was back in school but not finished with chasing the dream of football. Unexpectedly, my girlfriend became pregnant and nine months later, my first son was born.
My dad said, “You know son, you can’t chase this dream forever.” I also spoke with a friend and former teammate at Davis, Mel Byrd, who was playing for the BC Lions in Canada. I made the decision to give up on “my dream” and begin my life as a responsible husband and father.
I finished school, earned my degree in Managerial Economics and got a “real job.” After making this big decision, the Saskatchewan Roughriders offered me a contract, which I turned down. It was my time to move on.
In between football camps, I was a Loss Prevention Agent for Sears and Gemco department stores. During my time on these jobs, several law enforcement officers recruited me, sparking my interest in law enforcement.
One night, I went on a ride-along with the Sacramento City Police Department. It was so exciting and I knew this was the occupation for me! I took the written test, went through the whole background process… and then nothing happened.
Nine months later, I was visiting a colleague at a company I no longer worked for when I was paged over the loud speaker. The Sacramento Police were calling me. They thought I still worked there. I just happened to be there, visiting a friend. That was a “meant to be “ moment that changed my life forever. They offered me a job on the force and I accepted. 28 years later I’m still here!
4. What obstacles have you faced in your pursuit of significance? How did you overcome them?
Two moments stand out in my mind.
The birth of my first son was a big surprise that required a significant change in my life. I made the decision to get married and become responsible for more than myself.
When I was being recruited by the Sacramento Police, they knew I was a star running back at UC Davis. It was pretty clear I would make a nice addition to their department football team. As a black officer in a predominately white department, I worked extra hard to make it clear that I belonged there because of my talent as an officer. I wanted my contribution to the police department to be what mattered most, not the touchdowns I would score for the department football team.
Obstacles are inevitable. I use hard work and determination to reach my goals. I don’t let anything or anyone keep me from doing me very best.
5. What is one thing you wish you knew 10 years ago?
I wish I’d have bought stock in Apple.
Also, it would have been nice if I had taken the time to plan my life better ‑ rather than just reacting to the moment. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” I wish I had spent a little more time sharpening my axe. For example: if I had planned for my retirement properly, I could have retired four years earlier with the same benefits!
6. What is one hope you have for the next 10 years?
A career in law enforcement is very challenging on a family ‑ and mine is no exception. I want to spend my retirement years giving time back to my family. I want to go on the cruise I’ve never taken. I want to spend time with my kids and grandkids. I want to spend time on things that bring me joy and keep me healthy, like basketball and softball.
I’ve spent a career as a mentor and role model for the Sacramento Police Department. I want to take that experience and focus it on my family.
7. Are there any books or resources you would like to recommend to our Happy Living community?
Good To Great by Jim Collins is a great philosophy of being on the right bus in the right seat. It gave me a helpful framework for mentoring young officers throughout my career.
The Bulletproof Mind is a military guide by Lieutenant colonel Dave Grossman. The book describes the mindset a soldier needs in battle to survive, never give up, and accomplish the mission. When I began my career, we didn’t need such a war-like mindset in law enforcement. Tragically, with the rise of terrorism on the streets of our country, this “battle-ready” mindset is a requirement for every law enforcement officer in the land.
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- huffingtonpost.com: On 9/11, Remember the Importance of First Responders by Nancy Brown ↩