Three Misfits who sacrificed the NFL for their passion

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Tales from a Misfit

Ever had your dream job … and walked away as you were approaching the pinnacle?

Does not happen too often. Here are some football studs that did just that: Pat Tillman, Chris Borland, and John Urshel.

Hats off to-ya fellas.

All three started in the NFL. They were on the upswing of promising careers – careers that would yield millions of dollars. They had arrived.

Then they left.

Each had a reason and each reason is highly commendable.

Pat Tillman:

Pat was a Sun-Devil in college and an Arizona Cardinal in the pros. Most know Pat’s story. It is one of patriotism, service, and sacrifice. After the events of 9/11, Pat enlisted. He saw action in Iraq. Then returned for Ranger School and became an elite soldier. He was deployed again and spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was killed by mistake in a friendly fire tragedy.

Pat was on top of the world. After the 2001 season he was offered a 3-year deal worth over 3 million dollars. He walked away to serve. Pat’s brother Kevin, a highly touted professional baseball player, joined him. Those Tillmans value duty and helping others. 

This was a head-scratcher to some. Why leave a multimillion-dollar career to put your life on the line? A career that took a lifetime to achieve. From pee-wee football to big time college to the NFL. Pat was living an American Dream.

He wanted to help others.

He walked away.

He served.

He died.

He might have been a Misfit.

Thank you, Pat.


Chris Borland:

Chris Borland walked away from professional football after just 1 year. He was a badger in college and with a 3rd round selection in the draft, he became a 49er in the pros. He had a killer rookie season and was well on his way to stardom. Seems like the perfect time to throw in the towel, right? 

What the hell is wrong with this guy? 


I actually think Chris was just a Misfit.  


He was concerned with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and with good cause. Recent research found that of 111 former NFL player brains donated to science, 110 had CTE. That’s not exactly cause and effect, but that’s enough proof for me (and you).

Among others, Chris realized he has a higher purpose than playing football. Like Martellus Bennet: “football is great but I ain’t dying for this s—t”. Martellus urged other players to find a higher purpose in life. Chris already did and he is following something that resonates with him: helping others. Given his forward thinking on CTE, he has put in serious time and effort to more fully understanding mental health issues. He interned, yes interned, at the Carter Center in Atlanta after the NFL.


He is still there after his internship.


He has found his passion.


He is helping others.


Nice work Chris.


John Urshel:

John played center for the Baltimore Ravens. He was a standout in college at Penn State and won the Campbell Trophy - the academic equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

After three seasons, and what looked to be a starting job at center, he walked. Seems like a good time to make a change. I am going throw all this fame and money right out the window. Does not sound like what most folks would do.

Turns out, football was never John’s true passion. I am sure he liked it, but math, yes, math is his passion. Guy is a serious student of math. Soon he will be a serious professor of math.


As a PhD student, at MIT no-less, he has already published a half-dozen or so papers. These aren’t self-published – these are serious peer-reviewed publications. Most PhD students are lucky to have one publication when they graduate. My guess is soon-to-be Dr. Urshel will have over a dozen publications with several prestigious schools trying to land him in a tenure-track role. Within 10 years I predict he will hold an endowed chair as a thought leader in advanced mathematics.  The academy is a place where professors offer insight to build future knowledge and help students achieve potential.

I think John was a Misfit in football too, like Pat, Chris, and probably a bunch of other guys I am leaving out.

He unleashed his passion.

Just look how happy John is working the chalk:  

Nice going to the future Dr. Urshel.


Are you in your (real) dream job?

Sometimes we confuse our passion with $$$. We get sucked up by what we think is a dream job because we can make some serious bank. Why, because society values jobs/careers that are associated with power and money.

Be honest with yourself – are you in your real dream job or are you someone like Pat, Chris, or John.

If you are more like these guys – you are a Misfit.

Now go chase your dreams.