Job security in the NFL is one of the biggest topics of conversations, when it comes to discussions. Playing in the NFL, isn’t stressful until it’s stressful but at its heart it’s one of the most insecure jobs in America. I want you to think of the NFL a little differently. Think of it as a professional version of NCAA D1 football. But instead it’s just the Top 32. Instead of having a litany of teams and schools with an abundance of players, its 32 schools with the best talent the NCAA has to offer and the students don’t graduate and the curriculum is Football. As an athlete, up until the point of becoming a professional we are amateurs and have to go to school so we are conditioned to be focused from 8-6 on school and sports. Professional sports are both the school and the after school sport. Just as students go to school everyday and are part of a routine, so is a football player. In school, you know you’re being graded for the work that you do and are trained from elementary school to know your behavior and in-class attitude factor into your grade. In the NFL, it feels much different. You’re the player and have three layers of judgment on you everyday. Coaches, executives and the media, that’s a lot of eyes on you everyday, watching everything you’re doing…and judging it, according to the overall good of the team. Everything you say, everything you do, everyone you talk to…all of everything can be used against you, if they want to cut you. It’s very stressful worrying about your future, while trying to compete against some of the worlds best athletes at the same time. So you don’t, or at least try not to. You block all of that out as best as you can and try to perform. You try to not get talked to because everyone on staff that walks up could be delivering the news of being cut. If you’re on the radar you’re a target. There’s no other time more stressful than training camp.
Twice, I’ve been minding my own business in class when I got the call to the principles office. I mean imagine feeling like you’re unnoticed in class and nobody ever calls you out of class. And one day a knock on the door comes and you look up as usual to see who it is before dismissing it as unrelated to you and going back to work. Imagine seeing the lead disciplinarian walk in. Its like a lion amongst gazelles, they all know someone isn’t going to make it but they don’t know who. And the one voice you never really heard says, Mr. Your Name Here, come with me, the Principle needs to see you. Bring your things. There is no rollercoaster that can drop a stomach like that moment. This isn’t adrenaline. This is fight or flight, with no choice at flight. This is public speaking against your will. This is anxiety, stress worry and fear wrapped in a nice little bow. This is your hopes and dreams relegated to a piece of paper, a contract. One that they rip up at will and there is no gold watch. There is only a thank you for everything you’ve done.
When I got the call in Minnesota it was unexpected, although I expected to be cut. I was watching The Butler, the matinee of course, when my phone rang with a Minnesota number. My heart sank and I looked around. I got up knowing that it was time to go but wondering if I should finish the movie or not. When I answered the phone they said Rick wanted to speak with me and they’d come pick me up in 15 minutes and that I needed to pack up. For me, it was different. I told them that I needed much more time. I went back to the hotel that I called home for 3 months and packed all my stuff back into the 2 suitcases and duffle bag I lived out of. I knew that I was done with the NFL. I knew that Minnesota served its purpose. I was happy that it was right before my birthday and that I could enjoy it with my family and friends. I was happy that I lived my dream. I felt good about myself. I walked in with my head held up high knowing that I’d be getting my freedom, getting the keys to the cage and being allowed to fly freely. For me, being told I wasn’t good enough didn’t bother me because I was anxious to get started with life.
Being cut is a one sided break up where you can’t even make a case for yourself, the only thing you can do is tell them where you want them to fly you back to. It is the worst thing in the world as a football player. Each player is the representative of his own tribe. He’s made it to the highest point possible and has a vast support system behind him encouraging and watching his progress. Being cut is simple. Your skills are no longer good enough to keep you around. One minute you’re on the inside waiting for the bell to ring, the next minute you’re locked out of the school with nowhere to go. Hoping that another school recognizes your talent as a student of the game and enrolls you. Getting into NFL university and staying there is one of the hardest things to do. Every year, theres new cars coming to the track and there aint that many spots in the race. Getting cut has to be what it feels like to be a gazelle that gets caught by the lion. When you’re watching on Nat Geo it’s one thing. But when you’re on the pride land, you know you’re accepting the laws of the land. Every Gazelle knows that when it wakes up it needs to out run the fastest lion. Every lion knows that when it wakes up it needs to outrun the slowest gazelle. But either way you need to wake up being ready to run. Fight or Flight at its finest. The NFL is a day to day job and training is the Migration. It’s put up or get cut. The NFL weeds out those that can’t last. It’s the league of dreams but it is the NFL. NotForLong.