nfl lessons

5 Lessons I Learned in the NFL

Since I was a kid, I dreamed of playing in the NFL. I was blessed to go on to play professional football for four different cities. And my family and I made six different moves during my 16-year career, playing for two cities two different times.

Playing football at the professional level is as amazing as you would dream. It’s also exhausting for you and your family. The mental, emotional, and physical toll from week to week and season to season is tough. I’m grateful to have played the game I love for so long and I learned a lot of NFL lessons from those 16 seasons. Here are 5 of them.

1. We are meant to enjoy the journey.

I’ll never forget that rush of emotions right before the start of a new season. But I didn’t realize the obstacles I’d ultimately face. Looking back on my time with New England, I didn’t take things in and enjoy myself as much as I could have. There was so much pressure to succeed that I often felt anxious about the challenges ahead. My identity was wrapped up in being successful on the field. I should’ve taken more time to sit back and enjoy all the good things around me—especially my growing family.

If New England taught me anything, it’s that my identity should be about more than being an athlete. I was a Christian, a husband, and a dad. As a dad, are you balanced and enjoying the journey? Learn to enjoy where you are now. Don’t take it for granted. Your identity isn’t found in your job. Your job will change over the years. Make sure your priorities are in order; then enjoy the journey.

2. We are meant to live in community.

In Cleveland, I learned the importance of working with a team and living in community. I don’t think we were meant to live life alone. For me, being involved at my church and with my family is vital. Life is better when you find a community that can support you in your walk through the ups and downs. There is power in relationships. God will put you in the places that will prepare you for periods of growth—especially during difficult times.

Cleveland fans were some of the best fans you could ever want. And, looking back, we had a strong support system for our family in Cleveland as well. As dads, the relationships you have now are vital. The family God has blessed you with should matter more than anything to you.

3. We are meant to serve God.

As an athlete, you’re trying to be excellent and get noticed. But while not getting noticed on the field while playing for the Saints, God used that time for me to become a better leader off of the field. I learned to speak up on various issues—including race. As it turned out, the year I didn’t feel like I was being influential was also the year I was named team captain.

With the Saints, I learned that whether you’re a big shot or you feel like a nobody, God can still use you. I learned to slow down and better appreciate others’ stories. Honestly, it was difficult to play backup and do the grunt work during my time in New Orleans. But as I look back, being in a position to baptize two guys in a training tub was a highlight of my life. As a dad, notice the people in your corner and appreciate them. Slow down and serve your family well.

4. We are meant to be resilient.

Fans rarely see what’s happening off the field. In our time with the Ravens, we experienced a lot of setbacks. In Baltimore,  they say to “play like a Raven.” It means playing tough, being resilient, and having character. I learned that I was not invincible during my time with the Ravens. I tore my Achilles. But, no matter how things unfold in your life, there can be fruit.

While I was hurt, my busy schedule changed and I was able to go to church with my family. As I look back, my time with the purple and black—both on and off of the field—was fruitful. My love for social justice was formed in Baltimore, attending conferences in the DC area, meeting with elected officials, and having various speaking events. As a dad, you have to be tough, resilient, steadfast—like a Raven. It starts with being consistent, doing the hard stuff, and, eventually, there’s fruit.

5. We are meant to be faithful.

After leaving Baltimore, we headed back to New Orleans for one more year with the Who Dat Nation before returning back to where it all started with the Patriots. By this time, we were parenting new twins, never sleeping, lugging seven kids around, and I was dealing with more pains and injuries on the field. Through the disappointment of physical injuries, I learned the most important thing is to be faithful—to show the people around me that I’ll show up no matter what.

As a dad, there will be disappointments. In football, it’s often physical injuries. In life, it’ll be losing jobs, not sleeping for years, and busy seasons of family life. You have one job for your family—be faithful. Being faithful will show your family members the love they need and give them security knowing you’ll be there no matter what happens.

Sound off: What have you learned from life experience that has shaped you as a dad?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is one thing you have learned this week?”