Tamba Hali appreciates the great distance she has traveled in her life, from her hometown in Gbarnga, Liberia, to her home in Overland Park, with many stops in between. Traveling more than 5,600 miles over the years, she has learned to blend the cultural customs of her native country with an American way of life.
Hali, a former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who still holds second place in all-time sacks with the team, has accomplished a lot on the gridiron. Hali, known for his passion for the game and his commitment to excellence, retired from playing in 2017 and officially retired from the NFL in 2020.
Fans who have playoff fever this football season are still proudly wearing Hali’s #91 jersey. Hali is applying those same skills to forging his own path in life after football. That path includes music, family and community.
“I want to make sure I can help people,” said Hali, who is married to Mary Hali. They have a blended family of five children, ages 3 to 12.
For a man retired from football, Hali hasn’t slowed down, working his mind, body and spirit.
Six days a week, his day begins at 6 in the morning when he trains with a jiu-jisu master. Hali is an avid practitioner of the martial art form, something he has practiced since he joined the NFL.
“It’s not about going out and hurting people, it’s about thinking,” said Hali, who has a brown belt in the discipline. “At first it was about support, but over time I realized how important it was for my mind. There is a passivity to it…. Calm any situation.”
Music, a lifelong passion for Hali, is woven through much of the day.
And while his life as a parent, martial arts student, and musician is busy, the Johnson County resident manages to make time for his community.
As a member of the Chiefs Ambassadors, a group of past players who perform community service, Hali is making his mark as a gentle giant.
One organization Hali has connected with is Literacy KC.
“Literacy KC is a phenomenal organization, teaching people from all different walks of life, helping them learn to read and write. And that’s what I had to do in fifth grade when I came to the United States,” Hali said. “Seeing him now has helped me navigate where I want to be in the future and how I can help.”
Hali also audited Welcoming KC, an initiative of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. He seems to be a natural fit for the man who received support from others when he moved to the United States. Other former Chiefs players agree.
“Tamba Hali embodies what it means to be a great, great teammate: all the dedication, perseverance and attention to detail,” said fellow Chiefs Ambassador and linebacker Shawn Barber.
A young life in turmoil
Growing up in Liberia, Hali was a soccer kid. Hali’s young life was turned upside down when his home country erupted into civil war. His father, Henry Hali, fled to the United States in 1985, settling in Teaneck, NJ. The family stayed behind, fleeing into the countryside and living as refugees, seeking food and shelter as they witnessed the horrors around them.
It would be several years before Hali, who was only 10 at the time, could arrive in the United States along with her three siblings. Complications forbade her mother, Rachel Keita, from joining the family at the time. When Tamba Hali became a citizen in 2006, he was able to bring his mother to the United States.
In her early years in America, Hali lived with her father, then a professor, in New Jersey. When he arrived, young Hali spoke no English but learned quickly through the popular Hooked on Phonics program.
“I thought it was cool to rhyme,” said Hali. That love of rhymes would come full circle when Hali entered the music business.
When he was a student at Teaneck High School, Hali’s athletic abilities became evident. He left football for other team sports.
“I was a great basketball player. I grew up with basketball, playing in the gym and playing in the park all day” Hali said.
It was Hali’s high school gym teacher and school football coach, Dennis Heck, who convinced him to play the gridiron. Heck would continue to mentor Hali throughout high school, guiding him to pick Penn State University to play football with the legendary Joe Paterno.
While at Penn State, Hali began actively developing his interest in music.
“When I got to college, Fruity Loops (a music production program) started,” Hali said.
“My stepbrother left me all of his mix tapes so I could learn from them. There was a huge hip hop culture and I was absorbing it all. I loved it.
Music was on the back burner during Hali’s collegiate and professional football career. Hali, who majored in communications, was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft as the 20th pick by the Chiefs. Yet Hali had to push to show off his soccer skills.
“Coach Herm Edwards was the only coach that came to my job as a pro,” said Hali who received his U.S. citizenship during training camp before making his NFL debut in 2006. “He loved the boys who loved football”.
The pro gamer tunes in to musical dreams
It was during his time with the Chiefs that Hali started doing something about his love of music. Inspired by Jay-Z and others, Hali started focusing on music in his spare time.
“I started a label and started working with Gillie as a Kid and put some money into it,” Hali said. He founded his own label, Relumae, which Hali said means “to rekindle.”
By the end of his football career, Hali was managing a handful of other artists and working with other producers.
“I really wanted to learn how to produce and write songs”
Hali played drums as a child, but began taking piano lessons in 2016 with Darren Verbick, a music teacher at St. Joseph’s.
“At one point I was practicing from 4 in the morning to noon. There is no luck on the piano. You have to practice,” she said.
As his football career drew to a close, Hali continued to record and produce music from his studio in the basement of his Overland Park home.
Hali has continued to connect with artists across the country and around the world. She would describe his music as having an afro beat.
“I like making music that people love to dance to and enjoy,” said Hali. “I want them to feel good about the music and know it’s coming from a place of joy.”
Hali has written and produced around 40 songs and 15 music videos.
“I want to perform more because I know we have great music,” he said. “Right now I’m in the hardest phase, which is actually writing music. I’m mixing, producing, writing the instruments and the melodies. I’m pushing myself to write songs that appeal to the commercial world.
“I can do anything business,” Hali said, “but it doesn’t capture me like music.”
Working from home allows Hali to be an integral part of her children’s lives.
“Children are a big part of my life,” she said. “When the kids aren’t at school, I’m here with them. I go to their games and activities…. I have started teaching jiu-jitsu to two of the kids and there is also a lot of practice with basketball.
Reach out to his community
Barber admires the passion of his fellow Chiefs Ambassadors.
“Tamba is putting the same passion he used to fire the quarterback into addressing the needs of the community and seizing opportunities to make a difference,” Barber said.
“He knows that every man has a job to do. As Chief Ambassadors, we have a job to do in this community. Whether it’s mentoring youth, helping in youth camps, engaging with and serving on the boards of several nonprofits in our community, he’s doing everything he can to create a better and stronger path for all of us.
Hali, who began her effort to start a STEM school in Liberia, is enjoying the learning process of nonprofits here in Kansas City.
“I don’t have any experience in nonprofits,” Hali said. “I’m in the learning phase so look what’s going on out here…. I come from a place that thinks America is very rich, but that’s not the case. There are homelessness and other challenges. I want to help where I live now.”
While Hali’s life is filled with family, music, and community, he’s still missing parts of his old pro life.
“I miss the boys,” Hali said. “What mattered to me were the guys in the locker room. I had Justin, DJ (Derrick Johnson) and Eric Berry. We were so close. Sometimes I miss playing because I loved playing. I loved the process – everything.