Some NFL Players are Learning to Chase their Interests Beyond the Game of Football

Chase Winovich has played two seasons for the Patriots after being a third-round draft choice in 2019 out of Michigan. Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY Sports

Football, Chase Winovich says, “is the fuel source itself.”

The Patriots defensive end takes seriously the time and commitment his NFL career requires. But if football fuels opportunities on and off the field, consider Winovich a proponent of a balanced diet.

“I honestly think it’s healthier,” he told USA TODAY Sports by phone of his decision to launch a production company during his playing career. “My youth, energy and passion (can) funnel toward something that’s kind of flexing a different part of my brain that I believe football doesn’t capture.

“I’m more motivated to play football, more inspired from a general life sense.”

The NFL Players Association delivered a concurrent message Tuesday in the organization’s third annual #AthleteAnd 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 chase their passions beyond sports – even before the end of their athletic careers are in sight.

Institutional support of off-field development isn’t always a given, nine-year NFL safety Michael Thomas said.

“I remember very early on, a GM definitely had a conversation like, ‘As soon as you start thinking about anything out of football, you’re already out of the game,’” Thomas told USA TODAY Sports by phone. “I’m like, ‘Bro, I’ve got all type of other passions I want to do.’”

Balancing profession, passion

The #AthleteAnd workshop aimed to encourage diverse exploration. 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 professions and passions.

NFL brothers Sam and Emmanuel Acho, each a published author and philanthropist, discussed how players could use their platforms for good. Speed dating-like workshops featured tips on building a LinkedIn presence, maximizing public speaking opportunities and strategizing brand growth.

How best to ensure social media accounts are active and fun to follow? How best to attract endorsement deals that mesh with athletes’ interests and hobbies? Winovich listened closely as he considered how to incorporate the advice toward House 17, the production company he co-founded.

He now dabbles in creative oversight and business development, both starring in and creating content. A catchy reminder from Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence resonated: “If you chase engagement, you gain followers. But if you chase followers, you lose engagement.”

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