Do you miss playing football?

That’s the question I most often get asked when people see me nowadays. And though the question is straightforward enough, in my opinion the answer is still complicated. Although I have no desire to play again, the memories of the game are what I tend to think about and miss the most.

Being on the Jets, I’ve developed many deep relationships with my teammates and their families, Demario Davis being one of them. Though I am older the he is, I’ve noticed that Demario has an air of wisdom that surrounds him. As a rookie, Demario performed a “joke” at the rookie show, which usually the young guys do throughout different points in training camp in attempts to add some levity to an already tough environment.

He began describing a fictitious story about an acrobat who could perform incredible feats as he walked across a tightrope over a great waterfall. Nearby was a large crowd of onlookers that cheered him on and as they cheered he would do more tricks with greater difficulty, like walking backwards or lying down on the tightrope. The acrobat finally brought a wheelbarrow on the tightrope and asked the crowd if they believed he could walk across? They cheered YES and he responded, “So who wants to get in?”

As we tried to process the punchline of what we just heard, Demario said, “I am willing to get in, but are you ready to lead?”

“Wait a minute, what just happened!!??” was the response of the room as the players slowly realized the challenge that had just been put forth.

Moments like these are the ones you reflect on and appreciate over time. Those are the memories that make you smile, and yet there are those that don’t.

In 2016, the first season I hadn’t played football, my wife and I decided to visit Demario and his family in Cleveland, and go the Jets-Browns game.

Being at this game was going to be a new experience for me. We had field passes, which made me hesitate as I wondered if I was ready to see the game up close.

Arriving at the stadium, I took the elevator down to the bottom level and proceeded through the stands and down towards the field of FirstEnergy Stadium. I began to feel more and more uneasy as I watched the stretching lines from the Cleveland side.

I’ve done those drills, I thought to myself, recognizing coaches and teammates I’d played with, and yet now I was the fan, blocked by a rope and a stadium security guard. My identity was out there. I knew more of what it felt like to get ready for a game than I did being a bystander watching it. I was glad when I returned to my seat upstairs high above the field.

During this same season I’d done a Jets event at MetLife Stadium. However, I was distracted by the questions, the pictures and the fans to really consider how I felt to be back.

In the past I never understood why some former players who I saw at games always appeared a little standoffish, slow to engage in conversation as if the brotherhood we shared no longer existed.

But as the game concluded and my wife and I stood by the buses waiting to see my old teammates, I remembered what I saw in the eyes of those former players. I felt out of place.

I began having conversations with those who passed by. Being acknowledged by my teammates and those from the Browns allowed me to relax a bit, realizing that perhaps I had created this isolation in my head. Still, I leaned over the rope that separated me from those I knew, a tangible reminder that I was no longer a part of the team I’d played with just a season before.


For the past two seasons, I’ve had to consider what I would have done had I been on the sidelines still dressed in green and white. And today, yet again the question remains, would I kneel?
I think I’ve always been reluctant to do things outside of my comfort zone. When I’ve looked at issues in the past to support, if the issue did not directly affect me or my family or if the potential backlash seemed too daunting, I would tend to avoid the issue. But at what point does the struggle of another human being begin to trump my own comforts? When is my inactivity no longer an acceptable response?
As I watched the entire New York Jets organization during the 2017 season lock arms in solidarity on the sidelines before facing the Dolphins. I was at home, retired, detached from those who were in the midst of the fight. I was filled with a mixture of emotions that I couldn’t make sense of, unsure of the right course of action to be taken. The act of kneeling was never intended to disrespect our military, but rather bring awareness of the alarming incidences of police brutality and social injustice in our country, but what did kneeling mean at this point? Was kneeling now just an objection to President Trump’s inflammatory remarks? Why was it now being perceived as a slight against the armed forces? Or if a player stood, did that mean he was indifferent to those suffering injustice in our society?
I do appreciate the players that have demonstrated their beliefs through action, even when my own was hard to see. In last year’s November issue of GQ magazine, I read something that Eric Reid said that really caused me to pause and think about how I am honestly living out my faith. “The Bible talks very explicitly in Proverbs about being the voice of the voiceless and speaking up for the vulnerable. Another verse is: ‘Faith without works is dead.’ I guess selfishly I’m trying to get to heaven.” When I read this, I felt convicted. As a believer, I knew that I could never say that this was an issue that I wasn’t called to be involved in. I knew that Eric was justified in echoing those words expressed in Proverbs and in the book of James. The issue of kneeling had forced a conversation about social justice that perhaps I wasn’t ready to have with myself. That I hadn’t spoken up.
As I wrestled with my own thoughts, I watched as players mobilized into action. The Players Coalition, a diverse group of NFL players, committed to pushing the conversations with owners to tangible results, one that will lead to almost $90 million in financial support to grass-roots organizations over a seven-year period. Members of the coalition have advocated for legislation and have helped to bring various issues of social responsibility into the forefront.
But have issues of social justice been addressed sufficiently to the point where it is justifiable to fine NFL teams if athletes still opt to kneel this upcoming season? I don’t think I can agree with that. I am no longer playing in the NFL, but if I were I hope I would resist the urge to play it safe by standing and blending in with the masses. As I find my voice and look to engage organizations that advance the cause of social change, I am proud to have been a part of New York Jets organization, that while the debate of kneeling is still present, supports its players who decide to kneel , and whose ownership is willing to pay any fine as a result of it.