Very few people can look back at their life and say they fulfilled a childhood dream. In fact, even for those who do fulfill that dream may find it was not what they wanted after all. For Eddie George though, his dream was always football when his father introduced to him to the sport at a young age.
“Growing up in Philadelphia, football was everything. High school football. Little league football. Backyard football. Thanksgiving football. You name it. It was not only a passion, it was life. It was also a vehicle for me to pursue my dreams.”
George readily admits that he was not the most talented player or even highly recruited. He did not let that impede his future success though. In fact, it pushed him.
His drive to be his personal best started as a child. At eleven years-old he would practice his acceptance speech for when he won the Heisman Trophy.
So when he broke through his senior year at Ohio State University as an unknown running back, he had the opportunity to practice that speech.
“To win the Heisman gave me the resolve that if I put my mind to it, I could do it. It taught me a valuable lesson of what can be accomplished.”
The Heisman hoisted George to a first round draft pick, giving him confidence as he entered the NFL. However, he did not allow himself to think that he had reached his best an athlete. It the reverse effect on him to work harder as he was determined to not become a “Heisman bust.” His first season with the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) he won Rookie of the Year.
His career had several highs, spending nine seasons with the Titans, a rarity in football, playing in four Pro Bowls, and competing it the Super Bowl in 1999.
Then, when renegotiating of his contract took place with the Titans, George went a different route, choosing to play his final season with the Dallas Cowboys, a decision that he looks back at with introspect, “At the time it was a business a decision. Now though, there are times I definitely regret [leaving] because when we built Tennessee, I was one of the pioneers for that team. To watch what we produced, and then to have to be on the other side of that was difficult. I didn’t have time to digest it all.
George made the final call to move on from football, unaware of the challenges he would face. Eventually though, he would use his experiences to propel towards his new purpose in life.
On one hand, there is the football side of George, but if you peel the layers back further, there is an entirely different person: one with a deep sense of self-awareness and someone with a willingness to push himself outside of his comfort zone. While his current self was certainly shaped during his time in football, the more time one spends with George it becomes quite obvious self-discovery has always been part of his personal motto.
But even with self-awareness, the transition from player to civilian provided a new set of struggles. His battle to overcome turned into a severe fight with depression that was leading him down a path of self-destruction.
“I had to find something that was going to fill that void of putting my jersey on on Saturday and Sundays… There is no other feeling like that where you can go and battle for 60 minutes under the lights and play out your heart out. Football is America’s sport, and to walk away from that a lot went with it. One was my identity. Two, was figuring out what I would do next. Three, I had to ask myself what I was going to the next 60 years of my life to make money to maintain my lifestyle, to grow and build, and to take care of my family financially.”
When he started to face the fear and reality that football was in the past, he made the decision to attend counseling, receive help, and move forward.
“Within that fear though there was a sense of excitement. I had to make the choice to open up and welcome it,” he said.
George decided to attend the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The idea behind his decision to go back to school was to make sure he lived a life with purpose.
“For me it wasn’t a Plan B. It was a Plan A , and it was to always keep moving forward. I always tell people, ‘Don’t have anything to fall back on because you play it safe and you have a way out. Figure out a way to move forward.’ A lot of players say, ‘If football doesn’t work out I’ll fall back on this.’ First of all, you don’t want to use the words ‘fall back’ because you want to progress and use the game as a conduit for other great things because as we grow older we change and evolve and there are passions and gifts that are buried inside of us that haven’t fully matured yet.”
George started his own wealth management firm, Edward N. George Wealth Management this past year, with the intention to help NFL players and people in particular avoid some of the financial mistakes he made.
Earlier this year he told ESPN, “When I came into the league, I didn’t understand all the financial terminology. I lost some money in personal investments that I shouldn’t have. I want kids coming out of college to be more prepared for the financial side.”
In the middle of starting restaurants, finishing his MBA, and opening up his wealth management firm, he also found himself doing football commentary. In an indirect way, commentary led him to play the lead role in as Billy Flynn in Chicago on Broadway.
When George began commentating, he started working with an acting coach to get comfortable in front of the camera and decided to do small plays as a way to learn how to communicate better. With acting, he began finding himself filling the void of football more and understanding himself more fully,
“Being in a place where I was vulnerable and in a dark room, I had the opportunity to share a story and become a character and also have a character speak its truth. But in order to speak that character’s truth, I had to find out my own truth. It forced me to truly explore the reasons why I played the game, and where I was and take responsibility for it, and what I was going to do to find what was next for me.”
What came next was the opportunity of a lifetime to perform on Broadway this past year.
“Broadway is a lot like playing in the Super Bowl eight times a week, rather than one time a year. The same energy has to go into every show. That for me filled the void of my football days, the only difference is I’m not getting my head knocked off. It’s still the feeling of the rush of the pre-game jitters. It’s the performance aspect. It’s the camaraderie with the other cast members, and the trust that has to be established to perform night in and night out. It’s truly magical.”
George also got to put his acting chops to use on the HBO season finale of Ballers, playing himself.
“I definitely relate to the whole premise of that show, particularly the main character, Spencer, and the challenges he faced leaving football.”
Even in his new found happiness, George is an example of how hard an athlete has to work to assimilate into a life where their chosen sport does not consume their being.
When an athlete leaves his or her sport, it could be a result of an injury, or perhaps needing to spread their wings further. Whatever the reason behind moving on though, and even when success is found in their new journey, it is difficult to separate their identity from their sport. Professional athletes give countless hours to training, and there is an unseen sacrifice to emotional development that can take place since so much energy is spent developing their on-the-field skills.
For this very reason, George encourages fellow football players to expand their horizons and try something new
“To put yourself in a box of, ‘Well, I’m only a football player and I’m just going to stick to being in sports somehow,’ you’re not living a full human being experience. I’ve had teammates really struggle with depression asking themselves ‘What am I going to do now?’ Trying to find that next purpose in life is very difficult, and it takes years and years of trying to find it, only to be left with an empty void. If you throw all your eggs in one basket it’s a very dangerous thing. I believe the path to success is to diversify.”
For George, he will continue pushing the limits for himself, and by all accounts move forward.