It’s difficult, Domonique Foxworth says, to watch guys get knocked unconscious, carted off, then brought back out to play. And he knows something about injuries—a first-team All-ACC cornerback at the University of Maryland, Foxworth’s seven-year NFL career sputtered to a halt after a knee injury during practice.
Football itself is hurting right now. Concussion-related lawsuits filed by former players against the NFL are still in court. Sexual assault and domestic violence scandals continue to plague both college and professional teams, including Foxworth's former team, the Baltimore Ravens. Questions about the very state of amateurism in college sports, a multibillion-dollar industry, linger on the sports talk circuit.
As a former president of the NFL Players Association, Foxworth has an intimate understanding of these hot-button topics. But his own stories, going back to high school, offer a fuller picture of what it’s like to be a football player, and what it takes to be a man.
He spoke candidly with me about the praise he thrived on as a young player, the sexual dynamics of being a star black athlete at a predominantly white college, and how his priorities have shifted as he’s gone from the NFL to Harvard Business School.
What dating was like as a celebrated black athlete at a primarily white university:
I think it probably had a racial component, going to a predominantly white school. Like, these women who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in you as a long term relationship type person, they’re like, this big Mandingo strong black man, let’s experiment with that and see what this is all about....I kind of used it to justify some of the things that I would do. So I wasn’t the best boyfriend at the time....Like, they’re just after me because they want to be close to the football guy, or they think I’m in great shape and they think I’m this stereotypical, oversexed black male. They want to give that a try, but they don’t want to actually take me seriously.
Pro football's not a team sport; it's a business:
We get paid well because the talents that we have are so rare, but you’re still the labor....The really big difference is guys who are able to maintain the love for the game, and I don’t think I maintained that. I’ve joked with some of my friends, saying that you’re either really strong mentally or really weak mentally to be able to maintain that, because you either don’t see what’s going on around you, or have the strength to put that out of your mind. When I was a high school student, obviously, to do anything I could for my team and the guys—that’s the last time I felt like I was really on a team.
How he's perceived still matters:
The best thing about the money is having flexibility, and more than that is, for me at least, it kind of gives you that kind of prestige and relevance that I’m looking for. People knowing that you have that money. Or people knowing that you have had success in the NFL is good. And I think, part of the reason why I want to make more money is because I think that, I don’t like that people think—or I assume that people make assumptions about me—about what i’m able to afford or what I’m able to do is only based on me being an athlete.
Why he stopped watching football:
I have a hard time watching injuries. It’s difficult for me to watch guys get knocked unconscious. The strategy and the mental part of football, I still love. It’s a lot more like chess...But the play-by-play guys don’t know what they’re talking about, which is shocking considering there’s so many ex-athletes, and maybe they just simplify it for the sake of the common fan, but I can’t listen to them....I want to see the entire field, so I can really analyze the chess match....I can’t—the angles that they have, what I enjoy about football, I can’t see.
Read a full transcript of our interview, and see Foxworth talking about the social capital of the savvy athlete at the Harvard Innovation Lab: