It never takes long for Pellom McDaniels to get the question.
It's the first day of a new semester. McDaniels, who teaches history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is standing in front of his 100-level class: American History to 1877. He's wearing a pressed olive-green suit. His head is shaved bald. With his broad shoulders and 300-pound frame, he's a giant compared to the skinny underclassmen.
About 10 minutes into class, he finishes explaining why history demands critical thinking.
"We don't know what the truth is," he says. "That depends on your perspective." He brings his fingertips together in a pyramid over his chest and glides forward a few steps as he asks the 180 students if they have any questions.
A kid toward the middle of the lecture hall raises his hand. McDaniels calls on him.
"Were you a lineman for the Chiefs?" the student asks.
"Were you a lineman for the Chiefs," McDaniels repeats in the soft and slow cadence that he uses when he's thinking or disappointed. He looks out through his half-rim professor's glasses and answers, "Yes, I was. In the 90s 92 to 98. Any other questions?"
McDaniels has spent more years in a classroom than he ever did in Arrowhead Stadium. An injury forced him out of professional football a decade ago. With his playing days behind him, he turned his focus to academia.
McDaniels had been interested in teaching since attending Oregon State University, where he studied communications on a football scholarship. He was taking an African-American studies course, and the professor, a Southern white woman, was discussing slavery. Because "nigger" showed up in historical documents, she sometimes said the word in class. McDaniels thought she was too comfortable saying it.
"Maybe someone like me needs to be leading a classroom," he thought.
It took him more than 15 years to revisit the idea, but in 2005, he enrolled in Emory University's Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts. By 2007, he had earned a doctorate in American Studies.
The next year, he returned to Kansas City and UMKC with a mandate not just to teach but also to continue the community-service work he'd begun as a Chief. His return surprised some people.
Gary Ebersole, director of UMKCs history department, says McDaniels' background as a professional athlete — as well as a painter and a published poet — made him stand out among other applicants for a tenure-track position in the history department. But, he adds, McDaniels' dedication to Kansas City is probably what keeps him here.
"If he wasn't so invested in the community, I don't think we would be able to compete with the kind of salary he could command nationwide," Ebersole says. "I don't know that you can replace what Pellom does. I don't think lightning would strike twice."
But before he can get to business, McDaniels has to address and dismiss his students' questions about his football past.
"I always get it on the first day," he says as he leads an entourage of grad students through a sunny, humid August afternoon on the walk back to his small office in Cockefair Hall. "Some kid or some kid's parent will recognize my name, but I expect the allure of being a former Chief will wear off quickly."
The students who sign up for his lectures anticipating frequent digressions into locker-room stories and dissections of 4-3 defenses usually drop the class by week three.
McDaniels unlocks the door to his office and sets his leather shoulder bag on the floor next to his double-screened computer. Hanging on the wall next to the entrance is a foam-core board with a quote from black historian Carter G. Woodson: "Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history."