By Danny O’Neil
What happens after football?
It’s a question every NFL player will be forced to answer at some point, and a question John Moffitt chose to answer when he left the Broncos in the middle of last season.
The fact that he quit football – and not the other way around – makes him unique. That’s why The New York times wrote about him as did ESPN The Magazine, making him more renowned for his decision to leave football than he ever was by playing it.
And now that decision to walk away from the game is the reason that his arrest over the weekend in Chicago was national news. This wasn’t just another 20-something in trouble in the early hours of the morning with an ill-advised punch and a copious amount of illegal drugs. This was a player who said he walked away from football in part because of concerns over his health caught with a whole bunch of drugs that doctors don’t recommend nor do they prescribe.
So he’s a punchline, which is understandable.
If he was a player, he would have to worry about the possibility of another suspension. As a person, it’s impossible not to wonder about where Moffitt is headed when you look at his mug shot – which includes a welt on his lower lip, bleary eyes and what can only be described as a wince – and not worry at least a little bit for his future.
That’s not to overly dramatize the situation or make his arrest into some sort of moral failing. This is about decisions and direction, and wondering just what Moffitt is planning to do after an unexpectedly short football career.
He is an adult, after all. He’s not a high-school kid who didn’t know any better or a college kid who is experimenting. He is 27, has made a six-figure salary over the past three years and now has lots and lots of time on his hands.
What’s he going to do with that time? That’s the real question here, one that only Moffitt can answer.
Police reportedly found cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana on John Moffitt when he was arrested on battery and drug possession charges after an incident at a Chicago nightclub. (Chicago Police)
He left the NFL not because he didn’t love football, but because he felt burdened by the sport. He didn’t like what he was doing, the practicing nor the playing. He didn’t like how the practicing and the playing made him feel. He was a third-round pick in 2011 who saw his rookie year ended by a knee injury, and that knee continued to be a problem to the point the Browns said he failed his physical examination because of it.
He was subsequently dealt to the Broncos, becoming the only player to suit up for both of the Super Bowl teams. But he didn’t play in the Super Bowl, having walked away from the sport after the Broncos’ bye.
Professional football didn’t make him happy. So what will? Professionally partying? That seems like a rather shallow – not to mention potentially illegal – path. His Twitter account offers the self-description of “active happiness pursuer.”
He’s charismatic and engaging, someone with personality and an enthusiastic approach to life, a great wit and an unorthodox way of looking at things. He was always one of my favorite players to talk to when he was with the Seahawks because he was so unique.
He certainly has the personality to perform, whether that’s in the media or on stage. I’d buy a ticket to listen to him tell stories about football, whether it’s coaches or teammates.
But the post-career transition that Moffitt must now make has tripped up so many players across so many sports.
For all the wealth in sports today, the athletes have an incredibly short window in which to earn that money. Not only that, but they’re earning much of it in their 20s, which is not an age bracket that tends to make the best long-range financial decisions. Then they have the whole rest of their lives to worry about. For some that means finding a new profession. For every one of them it means a new way of finding fulfillment and feeling satisfied.
It’s a decision that most athletes put off as long as possible, staying in the game until they can’t anymore. Last year, Moffitt chose to make this transition.
Now, we’ll see if he makes the most of it or makes a mess. I sure hope it’s not the latter.