NFL star Rashad Jennings just cemented himself as the one to beat on Dancing With the Stars. The running back brought fans to tears after his emotional tribute to his father with dance pro Emma Slater.
E! News reported that the theme of the night was most memorable year, and Jennings portrayed his complicated relationship with his father. In the video package before the routine, Jennings recalled growing up with his dad and the distance between them.
“My dad was closed off when I was younger. Any time you would try to get closer to him, he would turn to alcohol,” Jennings shared. “His idea of love was to provide financially. He provided, and faded away.”
Jennings received a full scholarship to play football in college and was already being scouted as an NFL prospect. His life changed, however, when his dad suffered a stroke and had his leg amputated because of his diabetes. The future running back immediately went home to take care of his father and mother and was willing to give up his dream of playing in the NFL.
Jennings recalled this emotional time with a contemporary dance to “Unconditionally” by Katy Perry. It was this season’s best dance to date. But as good as Jennings was on the dance floor, he brought everyone to tears when we walked off stage and hugged his father and mother when the dance ended.
“I wasn’t watching the dance. I was watching two great artists painting one of the most beautiful works of art expressed through dance,” Bruno Tonioli shared after the performance.
The other Dancing With the Stars judges couldn’t agree more. Carrie Ann Inaba said Jennings was born to dance while Julianne Hough, who couldn’t stop crying, admitted that she didn’t know what to say. Jennings and Slater scored a perfect 10 from all of the judges except for Len Goodman, who gave the routine a 9, but praised them for the performance.
According to People, Jennings picked the song himself and chose to dance on the hit show because he learns a new skill every off season. As far as Perry’s song is concerned, Jennings believes it is a perfect embodiment of his turbulent relationship with his dad, which dates back to when he was a young boy.
“It’s a heartfelt song. … the words and the lyrics display how I think a lot and embody how the relationship is between me and my father,” he explained. “With Katy Perry, there’s so many things in the song that she says about, there’s one part where she says, ‘Oh no, did I get too close? Did I almost see what’s on the inside?’ That’s my dad. Like, did I almost see all your insecurity, your dirty laundry? Because he’s so prideful, he don’t want anybody to get close to him. So, he runs.”
Jennings also explained how his father’s drinking and smoking inspired him to never pick up the habit. Being an overweight kid with asthma, Jennings made it a point to make it into the NFL without any vices, and when he did, his father quit smoking and drinking alcohol himself.
Despite facing adversity growing up, Jennings has had a successful career in the NFL. Heavy has reported that Jennings never thought he’d make it in professional sports, which makes his run on Dancing With the Stars all the more special. If he continues to dance like he did Monday night, then the rest of the competition will definitely need to up their game if they want a chance to win.
Fans can watch the competition heat up when new episodes of Dancing With the Stars air Monday nights on ABC. Watch Rashad’s Jennings’ moving performance below.
[Featured Image by ABC]