Last in a three-part story. Parts one and two looked at Vai Sikahema's unlikely rise from poor Tongan immigrant to BYU and NFL football star who has become a media celebrity in Philadelphia. The final installment looks at Sikahema's commitment to his faith and an inspirational journey back to Tonga.
It should have been a thrilling moment. In 1996, just two years after he began his full-time broadcasting career, Vai Sikahema was invited to a meeting and offered a promotion to sports director and sports anchor. This meant he would anchor the sports news at 6 and 11 on weekday nights and cover the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. It was a dream job, but Sikahema's elation was tempered by one problem: He had just been called to serve as a bishop in his Mormon ward.
How could he reward his bosses' generous offer by telling them he had more compelling duties that would preclude him from meeting all the demands of his new job? How could he explain that he needed to be at church on Sundays, instead of traveling with the Eagles? How could he explain that he needed to be at his church on weeknights, as well, instead of the studio?
Sikahema sought inspiration in the temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and found it.
"I could see in my mind's eye exactly what I was supposed to do and what I was supposed to say to my bosses," he says. He immediately wrote these thoughts on the back of a business card, and two days later, he met again with station manager Pat Wallace and news director Steve Doer.
"There's something you should know," he began. "I don't know if this will make a difference in my promotion, but there might be some conflicts in my personal life."
He told them about his calling as a bishop and that it would require him to perform church duties on weeknights between the 6 o'clock news and 11 o'clock news and all day Sunday. Sikahema was surprised by what happened next.
"What can we do to help you?" Wallace asked.
Overcome with emotion, Sikahema told them how he felt about his church. He concluded by saying, "This is a call of God, and I will move heaven and earth to make certain that my professional duties will not be shortchanged if you allow me to fulfill my obligation."
Wallace generously offered to hire a part-time employee to research and write scripts for Sikahema and another reporter to cover Eagles road games on Sundays.
"You go fulfill your obligations to your church and to your faith," he said, with this caveat: that he arrive at the studio a half-hour before his two nightly newscasts.
Sikahema's faith infuses every aspect of his life. He currently serves as second counselor in a stake presidency, and he talks openly about his beliefs on the air when they are relevant to topics of the day.
"We know that his religion is very important to him," says Chris Blackman, WCAU's vice president of news. "It's a part of him, but without being overbearing."
During an off-the-air discussion about Tiger Woods with ESPN's Sal Paolantonio, Sikahema recited a quote from former LDS Church President David O. McKay: "No success can compensate for failure in the home."
Paolantonio wound up using the quote on the air, although he did not identify the source.
"He's a natural leader," says Ahmad Corbitt, the Cherry Hill, N.J., stake president. "His counsel is wise, measured and inspired. He's a man of God who's very committed to the gospel and to his family."
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