When the final whistle blew at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, Nov. 20, Shawn Oakman couldn’t believe he was a champion.
His Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 24-23, to win the Grey Cup, the CFL’s equivalent to the NFL’s Super Bowl.
“It smacked me right in the face,” Oakman told Fox News Digital in a recent interview. “I really didn’t get like that week to digest it. I got that night.”
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Oakman had one sack and two tackles in the victory, and every championship won deserves an after-party. That was Oakman’s intent when he got back to his hotel room, still holding the Grey Cup.
But Oakman didn’t make it out that night with the rest of his Argonauts teammates.
“Showered, hopped in the bed for like five minutes just to get my mind right, but I started getting cold sweats,” he recalled. “Started getting hot sweats. Then, next thing you know, all night I’m throwing up. Grey Cup champion. Can’t go out and party. That was pretty much the realization of you can’t do what you used to anymore. Sit your a– down. Yeah, you won but sit your a– down.”
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At 30 years old, Oakman’s partying days are at a minimum, but this was a special occasion. Yet, Oakman saw that moment right after one of the biggest moments of his life, personally and professionally, as a sign from God.
“I think it was just the detox of life and accomplishing something that maybe I thought, or the world thought, that I would never be or get there ever again,” he said.
To understand what Oakman means by that, you have to understand what he’s been through to get to this moment.
Oakman was born in Philadelphia and was a standout football and basketball star at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne. He eventually committed to Penn State to play football for the Nittany Lions, but an incident in February 2012 had him dismissed for violating team rules.
Oakman transferred to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and that’s where he’d be the centerpiece for one of the best sports memes of all-time.
“I get it every day,” he said when asked if he still sees or hears from others about his fabled Jumbotron picture at AT&T Stadium during the Cotton Bowl in 2015.
Oakman stands at a massive 6-foot-9 and 290 pounds, which is an intimidating sight to see across a line of scrimmage on any field. Oakman also had a unique way of wearing his Baylor jersey in college, using his pads to cut off the length of his jersey to reveal his six-pack underneath.
That’s what Twitter and many other social media platforms saw when Oakman’s Jumbotron image hit the internet.
When people who didn’t follow the Baylor Bears looked up No. 2 to see who he was, the stats showed exactly what you’d expected for someone his size: 11 sacks, 52 total tackles, four forced fumbles and two recoveries over 13 games.
Oakman’s superior length and agility during his junior season in 2014 made him an intriguing NFL Draft prospect. Yet, he returned to Waco for his senior season instead of declaring for the draft. He said the decision was an “easy” one.
“Me personally, I don’t think I was ready to go play in the NFL and be as productive as I thought I could be,” he said. “Maybe it was immaturity, maybe it was a lack of confidence.”
Oakman was considered by many entering his senior year to be a first-round prospect, with Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated saying prior to the season that Oakman could be the first overall pick that year.
Not only did Oakman underperform with 4.5 sacks and 43 tackles over 12 games, his decision to return to school eventually led to an incident that cost him his NFL dream.
On April 13, 2016, Oakman was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman, 22 at the time, who he went home with on April 3 following a night out at a Waco local bar, Scruffy Murphy’s.
The accuser said she texted Oakman to tell him she was at the bar. However, she doesn’t remember sending the text because she had too much to drink. She does remember going back to Oakman’s duplex and said he was grabbing her arm to stop her from falling.
She could not remember much of what happened next but said Oakman threw her face-down on his bed and sexually assaulted her.
A grand jury indicted Oakman on charges of second-degree felony sexual assault July 20, 2016.
The NFL Draft, which Oakman declared for, was two weeks later.
He was now “undraftable,” an NFC executive told NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein at the time. The results proved that when no team picked him up, and he wasn’t signed as an undrafted free agent.
“I was naive like all the way up until the draft,” Oakman said. “Watching each person get picked in 2016, I was naive. I was definitely living in a false sense of reality thinking I talked to the right aides, they’re going to do their job. The lawyers are going to do their job, but that wasn’t the case. Once a year went by, once two years went by, once people started falling away from you and leaving you behind and things of that nature, you get a grip on life real quick.”
Oakman thought he was going to be fighting for a roster spot in the NFL. Instead, he began fighting to clear his name.
As he mentioned, it was years before Oakman could get a trial. He was supposed to be living out his football dream at this point. Instead, it was time to get a regular job.
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“My first job I was packaging diapers in a box,” he said. “I was working at a diaper factory. I couldn’t keep a job. Probably the longest job I had was a month or two months long. It just wasn’t for me.”
While continuing to go through the legal process, as slow as it was, Oakman relied on consistency through football to keep him going. And that meant playing anywhere.
“I jumped to Bismark, North Dakota,” Oakman said, remembering his time playing for the Bismark Bucks in the Champions Indoor League in 2018. “Just to not go crazy trying to work somebody’s regular job. You still go to Bismark, North Dakota, with nothing. They paying you $200 a game. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with that, but I don’t got no family in North Dakota. I came out with me and three dogs. It wasn’t easy and anything could’ve happened out there. It was a risk just to go out there.”
Oakman couldn’t turn his back on football, though. It’s a game he fell in love with as a kid, and he knew he was good enough to make it. He just had to win his case.
On Feb. 28, 2019, he did just that.
A three-day trial found Oakman not guilty, and the verdict sent Oakman into tears.
“I did it,” Oakman said when asked what he was thinking in that moment. “Don’t matter what people can say. I didn’t lose. I won. I may have lost tangible things, money and all that. But in my core and my soul in my heart, I won. I beat the process. I didn’t fold, I didn’t rumble. I’m not who they say I am, and forever I’m able to recreate who I am. I won’t be labeled as such. Some people still will, but that’s on them.”
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Oakman’s attorney, Allen Bennett, pointed to the evidence in the case, which had the accuser deleting three text messages from her phone between her and Oakman that saw her reach out to him first. Bennett also said the “scientific evidence was inconsistent with what she told the nurse” at Providence Hospital where she was admitted following the incident.
Oakman admitted then that he did have sex with the accuser, and he did take her to his home that night.
Today, he continues to take accountability for what transpired.
Once a year went by, once two years went by, once people started falling away from you and leaving you behind and things of that nature, you get a grip on life real quick
“I did all those things that put me in the position where I could lose my dream,” he said. “So, first, you got to take accountability for what you did. Once you are able to take accountability for what you did, there’s nothing else to waver.”
His name was cleared, but what about that NFL dream? Oakman was about to turn 27 and his latest film was from arena leagues.
It didn’t matter. He wanted to play in the NFL and was going to do whatever it took to do so.
With the trial over and Oakman’s name restored, it was back to football. Yet, Oakman knew the NFL wasn’t just going to come calling.
So Oakman was with the Austin Generals in The Spring League in April 2019 followed by the West Virginia Roughriders in June 2019 with the American Arena League.
Then, the revamped XFL came calling with the Los Angeles Wildcats signing Oakman in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the league April 10, 2020, and Oakman was once again left to figure out his next step.
“It’s staying focused. It’s having a goal and a destination that nobody can deny,” he said. “When I beat my case, I said I’m going to play football. You go back to it. I’m going to play football. It didn’t matter where I was going to play football, but God gave me the opportunity to go play football.
The CFL has produced solid NFL contributors over the years, and when the Toronto Argonauts came calling, Oakman once again packed his thing.
“I speak highly of [Argonauts GM] Michael “Pinball” Clemons,” Oakman said. “He told me the other day that he tried not to view his players as objects. He tried to view them as people. That’s one of the biggest things that you can get out of an organization.”
Clemons’ belief in Oakman worked out for his team. Oakman is a two-time All-Star with the Argonauts, leading Toronto in sacks the past two seasons, including nine this year.
His production was a key piece of the Argonauts puzzle in capturing the 109th Grey Cup, a moment Oakman will never forget for many reasons.
Yes, it’s his first professional championship. But, more importantly, it’s a trophy that he didn’t think he’d ever grasp.
“At any given moment, I could’ve went the other route,” he said candidly. “I could’ve lashed out, I could’ve sold drugs. I didn’t have to be on this path. I could’ve been on any other path besides the one I’m on. That was a constant choice. They want you to be a monster. They want you to do this so they could have every reason to say, ‘Oh, he is who we say he was.’ That was kinda like my driving force, my driving motivation. I always knew who I was. There wasn’t nobody who could tell me who I am.”
Oakman knows he “lost a lot,” but he says he’s “gaining so much more” these days. He has a different perspective on football and life in general, one that is summed up in a constant state of gratitude.
The NFL dream? It’s never faded.
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“Of course,” he replied quickly. “I just don’t understand who wouldn’t want a dog. A natural leader. It really baffles me. They see what I bring to the table each and every day. It’s not about who’s going to take a chance on me. It’s about me making the most out of my opportunity.
“I’m grateful, and I’m thankful for doing what I love and it provides for me and my family. So I can’t complain. I’m blessed.”