The most memorable speech at the Eagles' Super Bowl parade will forever be Jason Kelce's, but the one that followed Kelce's had its own meaning.
Zach Ertz was next. He gave a short, quick speech. By his own admission, few will remember it. But for the 27-year-old who has become one of Philadelphia's most notable – and visible – athletes, it was a reminder of the strides he has made speaking in public.
At the end of a 17-minute news conference in the spring, Ertz answered a question about stepping into a leadership role after fellow tight end Brent Celek's departure by mentioning that in the past he "let my actions speak louder than words just because I had a speech problem when I was young and I wasn't confident talking a lot." It was a revealing admission, and it wasn't one that even the most ardent Eagles fans who hear Ertz's soundbites on television or radio would have known.
"I had a stutter when I was a young," Ertz said recently. "I went to speech therapy."
When Ertz first arrived at the NovaCare Complex in April 2013 for his introductory news conference, there were unintentional midsentence pauses. The session was cut shorter than usual, and he spoke on the side, away from the cameras in a less pressure-packed setting.
"I flew from California that night, got no sleep, I was nervous as heck going into it," Ertz said. "I kind of fumbled a little bit, stumbled a little bit. That was probably the worst it's been."
Ertz was careful not to overstate or mischaracterize his speech problem, and his mother, Lisa Ertz, was even careful labeling it as a speech impediment. He knows there are people who have it much worse. Ertz said his mind worked faster than his mouth, and the remedy has been making sure to take deep breaths and stay calm. It helps him to sit or lean. He's become more confident.
But even if there are people who have more challenges on the speech spectrum, it doesn't mean it has escaped Ertz's consciousness. He admitted that it's "one of those things that was always in the back of your mind."
"It's something I was self-conscious about, obviously," Ertz said. "You want to be perfect in all aspects. Just kind of the overthinker that I am naturally, I put a lot of pressure on myself speaking to [the media], because I like doing it. I think I'm a smart guy, so I can give good answers, and I didn't want to leave [reporters] hanging. So I'm definitely proud how far I've come."
Earlier in Ertz's career, he'd answer a question and his focus would be on his delivery as much as his content. He was afraid of stammering at the wrong moment.
Lisa Ertz said doctors told the family when Ertz was a youngster that he would outgrow it. And though it improved with age, he was never comfortable speaking. She said what made him overcome it was trying to expose himself to uncomfortable situations. Ertz took media training before the draft. He met with a speech coach three years ago. He never shied away from the camera. He was willing to expose himself to situations where he might stammer.
"If I could get better on the field, I could get better in my interviews," Ertz said. "I took that approach. If there's something I'm deficient in, whether it be in relationships, whether it be talking to people, just that self-reflection to seek people out who can help me."
After catching the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, there was even more of a spotlight on Ertz. He said he wasn't nervous during the parade speech because he spoke extemporaneously, which is easier for him.
He also went on stage at the ESPYs to present an award. That was more of a challenge because he needed to read from a teleprompter.
"I didn't want to do it at first because of the self-consciousness," Ertz said. "I decided to do it. And it's definitely something that went well."
Ertz and his wife, Julie, started a foundation this summer. Ertz addressed the crowd at the foundation's first event, which raised almost $300,000.
"It all came from [Zach's] ability to get up in front of 250 people and speak from his heart," Lisa Ertz said.
Lisa Ertz went to the parade, and when Kelce delivered his speech, she was thinking, "Oh, please dear God, don't be the next one after Jason!" Sure enough, Ertz came to the lectern next. She was in the crowd with two of Ertz's friends from high school, and when they saw him come up, they were thinking the same thing.
"And he just did a wonderful job, but he's comfortable now," Lisa Ertz said. "He's comfortable in front of his fan base here in Philly."
When the Eagles acquired Darren Sproles, who stutters and is a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation, Ertz confided with Sproles about his own experience. They even discussed Ertz's first news conference in Philadelphia. Sproles was at the parade watching his friend and could understand what Ertz might have been thinking.
"That really just shows you that you work at something, you can overcome it," Sproles said.
Lisa Ertz thinks that her son's story can help fans relate to Ertz on a different level and also overcome their own insecurities. Zach Ertz has repeatedly mentioned during the past year the importance of exhibiting vulnerabilities. This happens to be one of them.