USA TODAY International Edition

Players learning to chase interests beyond NFL

- Jori Epstein

Football, Chase Winovich says, “is the fuel source itself.”

The Patriots defensive end takes seriously the time and commitment his NFL career requires. But if football fuels opportunit­ies on and off the field, consider Winovich a proponent of a balanced diet.

“I honestly think it’s healthier,” he told USA TODAY Sports by phone of his decision to launch a production company during his playing career. “My youth, energy and passion ( can) funnel toward something that’s kind of flexing a different part of my brain that I believe football doesn’t capture.

“I’m more motivated to play football, more inspired from a general life sense.”

The NFL Players Associatio­n delivered a concurrent message last month in the organizati­on’s third annual # AthleteAnd workshop. Ninety- eight profession­al athletes representi­ng leagues including the NFL, WNBA, MLS and NWSL gathered virtually for profession­al developmen­t, networking and perspectiv­e on how to chase their passions beyond sports – even before the end of their athletic careers are in sight.

Institutio­nal support of off- field developmen­t isn’t always a given, nineyear NFL safety Michael Thomas said.

“I remember very early on, a GM definitely had a conversati­on like, ‘ As soon as you start thinking about anything out of football, you’re already out of the game,’ ” Thomas told USA TODAY Sports by phone. “I’m like, ‘ Bro, I’ve got all type of other passions I want to do.’ ”

Balancing profession, passion

The # AthleteAnd workshop aimed to encourage diverse exploratio­n. Athletes heard from Saints linebacker Demario Davis; WNBPA President and WNBA All- Star Nneka Ogwumike; and TV producer and former NFL linebacker Spencer Paysinger on how best to balance their profession­s and passions.

NFL brothers Sam and Emmanuel Acho, each a published author and philanthro­pist, discussed how players could use their platforms for good. Speed dating- like workshops featured tips on building a LinkedIn presence, maximizing public speaking opportunit­ies and strategizi­ng brand growth.

How best to ensure social media accounts are active and fun to follow? How best to attract endorsemen­t deals that mesh with athletes’ interests and hobbies? Winovich listened closely as he considered how to incorporat­e the advice toward House 17, the production company he co- founded.

He now dabbles in creative oversight and business developmen­t, both starring in and creating content. A catchy reminder from Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence resonated: “If you chase engagement, you gain followers. But if you chase followers, you lose engagement.”

“Maybe it’s because it has the name ‘ chase,’ ” Winovich joked. “But I thought that was pretty profound and relatively simplistic. For whatever reason, that stuck with what I currently have going on.”

Athletes exchanged contact informatio­n and connected on LinkedIn to compare interests and pool networks.

Thomas thought about his Capitol Hill externship­s with Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, his youth football camp that has expanded to included SAT prep and financial literacy courses. Add social justice and entreprene­urial endeavors, and he believes his off- field vision is “really all starting to come together.”

How did other athletes find that clarity, he wondered?

“Other athletes who see beyond the sport they play – what are they up to?” Thomas said. “Let me see the interest they have because I might have an interest they have or passions we can align and connect.

“Really just to connect with a bunch of other athletes. I love the fact that WNBA was included as well.”

Opportunit­y to be authentic

Each player in the # AthleteAnd room had an on- field or on- court resume.

Thomas has played in 97 NFL games, amassing 313 tackles, three intercepti­ons and three forced fumbles.

Winovich is coming off his second season in New England, a campaign that featured 5.5 sacks and 48 tackles.

But that’s the athlete in them, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith reiterated.

How about the “And”?

“When we look at our opportunit­y now to be authentic, I think we now know we should never have a job where we listen to someone say, ‘ Just shut up and dribble,’ ” Smith said. “Or listen to someone who says we should just be confined to a world where we are just someone who’s engaged in sports.

“That’s not who we are – that’s what we do.”

Winovich said he hears from people who think his pursuits can’t coexist, but he disagrees. He sees skeptics as part of an often- toxic social media landscape that he wants to change. His goal for his production company: Reimagine content so it stems from a place of love and respect rather than fear.

“These are the things I’ve thought about that help me cope with thinking differentl­y and thinking outside the box,” Winovich said. “I’ve always felt like my whole life I’ve been shoved and poked and prodded into that box, whereas our gifts are different. What we can contribute to humanity makes us special.”

 ?? GREG M. COOPER/ USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Chase Winovich has played two seasons for the Patriots after being a third- round draft choice in 2019 out of Michigan.
GREG M. COOPER/ USA TODAY SPORTS Chase Winovich has played two seasons for the Patriots after being a third- round draft choice in 2019 out of Michigan.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA