Football, says Chase Winovich, is the fuel source itself.
The Patriots’ defensive end takes seriously the time and dedication his NFL career demands. But if football encourages opportunities on and off the pitch, consider Winovich as an advocate of a balanced diet.
I really think it’s healthier, he told USA TODAY Sports over the phone about his decision to start a production company during his playing career. My youth, energy and passion (could) lead to something that bends another part of my brain that I don’t think fits in football.
I am more motivated to play football, more inspired by a general sense of life.
The NFL Players Association delivered a simultaneous message Tuesday in the organization’s third annual #AtleteAnd 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 pursue their passions outside of sports, even before the end of their athletic careers is in sight.
Institutional support for development off the field isn’t always a given, said nine-year-old NFL safety Michael Thomas.
I remember very early on when a GM definitely had a conversation like, As soon as you get into anything from football, you’re already out of the game, Thomas told USA TODAY Sports over the phone. I’m like, bro, I have all kinds of other passions I want to do.
Balancing profession, passion
The # AtleteAnd workshop was designed to stimulate diverse research. 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 profession and passions.
NFL brothers Sam and Emmanuel Acho, each a published author and philanthropist, discussed how players could use their platform for good. Speed dating-style workshops include tips for building a LinkedIn presence, maximizing public speaking opportunities, and strategizing brand growth.
How can you best ensure that social media accounts are active and fun to follow? How can you best attract endorsement deals that fit athletes’ interests and hobbies? Winovich listened intently as he considered how he would integrate the advice of House 17, the production company he co-founded.
He now engages in creative supervision and business development, both in the lead role and content creation. A poignant reminder from Blake Lawrence, CEO of Opendorse, resonated: When you pursue commitment, you get followers. But if you chase followers, you lose engagement.
Maybe it’s because it has the name chase, he joked. But I found that to be quite profound and relatively simplistic. For whatever reason, that stayed with what I’m currently on.
Athletes exchanged contact information and connected on LinkedIn to compare interests and pool networks. Thomas thought of his outside positions at Capitol Hill at Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, his youth football camp that has been expanded to include SAT preparation and financial literacy courses. Add to that social justice and entrepreneurial efforts, and he believes his vision outside of the field is really starting to all come together. How did other athletes find that clarity, he wondered?
Other athletes who look beyond the sport they play, what are they up to? Thomas said. Show me the interest they have because I may have an interest that they have or passions that we can align and connect.
Really just to connect with a bunch of other athletes. I love that WNBA is also included.
Ability to be authentic
Every player in the #AthleteAnd virtual room had a on-court or on-court resume. Thomas has played in 97 NFL games and collected 313 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Winovich comes off his second season in New England, a campaign with 5.5 sacks and 48 tackles. But that’s the athlete in them, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith reiterated. What about the And?
Now when we look at our chance of being authentic, I think we now know that we should never have a job where we listen to someone say shut up and dribble, Smith said. Or listen to someone tell us to just limit ourselves to a world where we are just someone who plays sports.
That’s not who we are, that’s what we do.
Winovich said he hears from people who think his pursuits cannot co-exist, but he disagrees. He sees skeptics as part of an often toxic social media landscape he wants to change. His goal for his production company: to rethink content, comes from love and respect rather than fear.
These are the things I’ve been thinking about that help me deal with thinking differently and thinking outside the box, Winovich said. I’ve always felt like I’ve been pushed and poked and prodded into that box all my life when our gifts are different. What we can contribute to humanity makes us special.
Follow USA TODAY Sports Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
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