Catching Up with Former Player Rep: Austin Carr
We caught up with five-year NFL veteran, Austin Carr. We discussed his life after football, his experience being an NFLPA Player Representative, and his transition from the league. Austin was a member of the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints.
What is Austin doing now in his career?
I am currently working at Intentional Sports which is a nonprofit start up that is building an enormous 38 million dollar sports facility on the west side of Chicago where various kids over there do not have access to sports. The mission is getting inner city kids access to a safe place to play together during after school hours, on the weekends, and for enrichments during the school day. The west side of Chicago is rough in some areas, and this is one of the needs the city is looking for. Everyone was really excited leading up to the grand opening. My job is to go over the day-to-day operations, finding ways to get our calendar filled up, what space is being used and for how long, and overall mobilizing the staff to deliver stellar work. Also, we have partnered with Gatorade and have some kind of Nutrition Academy where kids can learn about healthy food and how to eat and fuel their bodies correctly. We also partnered with Riot Games at ESports, so we're going to have an Esports lab for all kids that like to play video games and compete and hopefully, they want to go pro within Esports which is the goal.
What is your favorite part of your job & why?
My favorite part is how creative I can get to be with figuring out programming and partnerships that we are going to have in the facility. Whenever starting a nonprofit, you have sort of a wide open ocean in front of you and sometimes that can be intimidating and terrifying. Most of that time I found it extremely exciting and invigorating because you are the author of what the North Austin Community Center is going to look like and what those kids are going to experience daily. I have a heart for the kids that I know are extremely talented, but they just don't have the right cleats. It's a tragedy that cleats are in the way of maybe the next NFL player such as the next Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes. The next Tom Brady in the inner city who just needs a pair of cleats, a coach, or even consistency. Those three points are what marked my youth career, and none of it was in my control; it was my parents providing the equipment and cleats that I needed. It was coaches volunteering that were willing to step up and be around and add that consistency into my life.
What was your experience like as a player rep?
It has been unique to reconnect with folks inside the football community, even some that I have competed against but even now knowing them on a personal level has been really invigorating and fun. When it came time for me to reconnect with the football community and give in to that role, I knew the NFLPA does an excellent job of providing resources for players. The reason these resources are so beneficial and save lives is because of the player-to-player relationships and reconnection that is brought back to the football community by the NFLPA.
What was your transition from football into your current career?
In my third year I got injured and I tried to play through it. I ended up getting surgery my fourth year which then turned into my ankle never being the same. Due to that injury, I just sort of realized it was time to hang up my cleats and move on with life. I am extremely grateful for my career in the NFL, I had so much fun and wouldn't trade that experience for the world. Long story short, my wife moved up to Chicago for the job that she really wanted to take and I was eager to pass the ball for her to take the lead. I was eager to pass the ball to her for the next vocational move because we were down in New Orleans with the Saints and she followed me during my entire career. I felt so loved and honored by her that she would put her career on the back burner for me. I told her if there is any vocational dream you want to do just know that I am behind you which is what brought us to Chicago. While in Chicago I ran into a Northwestern graduate who is the founder of Intentional Sports, Andy McDermott. Andy recruited me and asked if I wanted to join in the nonprofit they were bringing to the west side. It didn't take long for me to realize that this is the exact kind of thing I wanted to do after my NFL career. I wanted to leverage my platform to bring life and opportunity to the west side.
Do you have any advice for those currently playing trying to figure out their next career step or debating on retirement?
The NFL sucks so much attention up due to there being so much attention on you and your attention on it. Trust me, that's a very exciting time for everyone but I would say maybe my first piece of advice is give yourself a year gap to unplug. I still watched football but I just needed some time to think freely and time to decompress the transition. Just give yourself a year to unplug and consider who you are and how you can best use this platform for the next steps. It’s about discovering and rediscovering those things other than football that are valuable and really important. Next, I would say dig into your network, your NFL community, and league veterans who have encouraged you along the process. While we were fundraising at our nonprofit I reached out to several guys and asked them to partake if they want to contribute and let them speak if they want to share how they have contributed to Intentional Sports. There are tons of NFL Players that have come from the Chicago area, so my work is kind of geographical. I think any major city in the country is bound to be connected to an NFLPA Former Player group and connecting with those guys is very valuable while going to those events. There is so much more to life in the world than football, once you realize that you connect with people that know how special it is to you and to them. It's just a special fraternal connection that you have that opens the doors for jobs, fundraising, networking ideas, and beyond.
How was the journey for you while being a player rep?
Being a player rep was an amazing experience as it allowed me the opportunity to better understand the NFL from a business perspective while also sharpening one of my favorite professional skills; negotiation.
What is the biggest lesson you took away from the game and how did you apply it to your current career?
One thing I took away from football was that in the locker room there are various different personalities and people. Working with them is important, but leaving a legacy and daily remembrance is what they are going to remember from you. I think the kind of teammate you are to them is even more important for me. I look back at my NFL career and I have memories of times I was a good teammate and one when I was a bad one. In some ways this is like learning from my failures in the NFL, I would say one of those areas I might have failed at is being intentional about being a good teammate to everyone all the time. I have taken these lessons to my career today. It’s never just another staff meeting, it is an opportunity to be teammates and develop relationships and to care for others. I had a mentor in the league who said 10 years from now you're going to get a text from someone who was your teammate in the locker room and you're not going to read the text, you're going to look at your phone and remember those 2-3 things that stuck with you from that person. Now, it's going to be based on your experiences with them and what you observed from them and what kind of teammate they were that will be your determination of how you respond.
How did being a player rep impact you professionally and personally?
Being a player rep taught me a ton about how important communication and transparency are when it comes to leading large organizations/groups. I also really enjoyed being well versed in the benefits that former players have earned for us today.
What is one piece of advice you wish you had during your transition that you know now?
Don't be afraid to take different jobs and different roles. Don't think that anything is too low for you to do because the league is only one experience and you want to stack several experiences on top in that workplace. There is a saying in the NFL; the more you can do, the better chances you have to make the squad right? I think that approach needs to translate to the job and marketplace. The more you can do, which is typically gathered by experiences, the more valuable you are to the company. I have a buddy that was in the NFL and then he retired and went to work in an Amazon warehouse for 6 months and he was very excited and joyful for the opportunity. While working hard, he now stands as the assistant AD at a Division 2 school. That speaks a lot about his work ethic and talent as well as willingness to stack those experiences on top of one another.