Vai Sikahema

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Vai Sikahema Mormon athlete sportscaster

Vaiangina Sikahema was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 3, 2021. At the time of his call, he had been serving as an Area Seventy.

Sikahema is a retired American professional football player and sports broadcaster. He was the first Tongan ever to play in the NFL. He retired from NBC10 in November 2020.

Sikahema was born on 29 August 1962 in Nukuʻalofa, Tonga. He is an older cousin of fellow Tongan NFL player Deuce Lutui. When Vai was seven years old, his parents left him and his siblings in the care of relatives in Tonga, so they could attend what is now Brigham Young University-Hawaii. His parents worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center, affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ and the university, until they could afford to bring Vai over to Hawaii. Later, the family moved to Arizona, obtained legal status, and brought their other children to the United States. Sikahema's father trained Vai to be a boxer from the age of seven and eventually became a Golden Gloves boxer. His father planned that Vai would make a living with his fists, but his father also wanted him to get an education. Sikahema attended Mesa High School, where he played high school football.[1]

Sikahema started college at Brigham Young University in 1980. He played football there for two seasons and then left to serve a full-time mission in South Dakota for two years. He returned to BYU for it's only national championship in 1984. (He played in the two greatest football games in BYU history — the 1980 Holiday Bowl — aka the Miracle Bowl — and the 1984 Holiday Bowl, which served as the national championship game.) By the end of his senior year (1985), he held an NCAA record for most punt returns (153) in a career. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications. "I didn’t graduate from BYU till age 40, well after my NFL career and into my TV career. It’s a miracle I even stayed eligible at BYU. I was on perpetual academic probation throughout most of my undergraduate years.”[2]

Sikahema was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1986 NFL Draft. He played special teams for the Cardinals (1986–1990), the Green Bay Packers (1991), and the Philadelphia Eagles (1992–1993). He was named to the Pro Bowl twice (1986, 1987). On November 22, 2013, he was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame.

Upon retirement in 1994, and with TV broadcasting experience, Sikahema was offered sportscasting jobs by TV stations in Phoenix and Philadelphia. He had ties to both cities and had grown up in the Phoenix area. But he chose Philadelphia. “I chose Philly because it would allow people to see who I am and what I believe in an area where there aren't a lot of church members," he says. “The church was in its infancy there and still is. There are 2.5 million people in the Delaware Valley alone, and probably only 15,000 are members. Another way to think about it is this: When I came back to Philadelphia, it was the largest metro area in the Western Hemisphere without a temple.”[3]

He was "hired by then-CBS owned and operated television station WCAU in Philadelphia to do weekend sports. Surviving the station's sale to NBC, Sikahema later moved to weekdays and the sports director." [4] In March 2010, Sikahema joined with The Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer John Gonzalez as the hosts of the Early Midday Show on Philadelphia radio station WPEN-FM 97.5 the Fanatic. Sikahema was the host of “Wednesday’s Child,” a segment promoting the adoption of children. The feature is sponsored by the National Adoption Center and the Freddie Mac Foundation. [5] He covered the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing; the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy; and the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

"When an interfaith group of ministers was formed to travel to New York City to counsel workers at ground zero shortly after the 9/11 attack, Sikahema — the TV journalist and lay church leader — was among those chosen. They consoled policemen, firemen and EMTs who were struggling to cope as they picked up body parts and searched for victims."[6]

Always in great shape, Vai won a boxing bout against former baseball player Jose Canseco in a celebrity match (a knockout in the first round) and donated his winnings to charity. Sikahema lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Keala, and their four children.

In a BYU devotional address in November 2015, Presiding Bishopric first counselor Dean M. Davies detailed the role Sikahema played in the city approval of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple. [7]

On April 6, 2019, Sikahema was sustained as an Area Seventy at General Conference. As an Area Seventy, he would continue to live in his home, oversee 20 stakes from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and continue his employment. Philadelphia's NBC10 honored him with a 40-minute television retirement tribute in May 2019.

In an interview with Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson, Sikahema recalled an experience from his NFL days:

Sikahema saw a group of kids standing outside the stadium in St. Louis one Sunday as he arrived for pre-game preparations. He noticed that one of them — 14-year-old Barrett Brooks, he would later learn — had cut holes in his sneakers because they were much too small. “That was me — I had done that to get an extra year out of my shoes,” says Sikahema.
He invited Brooks — who was already much taller than the 5-foot-8 Sikahema — into the locker room and gave him a pair of new sneakers. Many years later Brooks was introduced at a press conference in Philadelphia as the Eagles’ second-round draft pick, and he recognized Sikahema among the crowd of reporters.
“Mr. Sikahema, do you remember me?”
“You’re the Eagles’ second-round pick,” said the confused Sikahema.
“The shoes, the shoes!” Brooks said. “You gave me my first pair of brand-name shoes!”
Sikahema immediately remembered the boy — now a 325-pound man — and they immediately exchanged a tearful hug as cameras clicked and reporters watched in confusion. The two developed a friendship and Brooks began what would be a nine-year NFL career that included a Super Bowl title with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After he retired as a player, Brooks followed his mentor into TV sports journalism, doing NFL commentary for NBC.
“I give the shoes to this boy and then he walks away from my life and I don’t see him again for 10 years, when he turns up as an NFL draft pick on the very team I ended my career with and the very team I am covering as a journalist!” says Sikahema. "How does that happen? We minister to people all the time; we just don’t see the result. Sometimes God gives us a glimpse of what we’ve done.”[8]

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