Domonique Foxworth Finding His Voice at ESPN
Domonique Foxworth is a former NFL cornerback and a Harvard Business School graduate, and often it seems as if he wants to be recognized as neither. Sometimes he will appear on an ESPN show and be asked to talk about important matters and not want to come across as too highbrow. Other times, he'll be discussing football and remind himself that he was neither a star nor a Super Bowl champion, so he cannot talk in clichés and expect people to care.
One co-worker called Foxworth the "most insecure secure person" she knows, and the former Western Tech and Maryland star probably would agree. His past five years read like a series of midlife crises. Maybe that's the defensive back in Foxworth, trying to move on to the next play.
He retired in 2012 after a seven-year NFL career because he was more comfortable as the players' union leader than as a Ravens cornerback. He went to business school because he felt he was as smart as the NFL owners he came to negotiate with. He took a job after graduation with a fancy title and big salary because that was what he thought HBS graduates were supposed to do. Then he quit, with nothing else lined up, because he realized he already had worked hard enough and long enough to give his family a good life, and what he needed now was to not be miserable.
Foxworth, 33, said he's happy now. Anxious, too, but mainly happy to be working a job that doesn't feel like one. On Sunday, he will head to a friend's studio in Washington, where Foxworth lives with his wife and three young children. Clinton Yates, his colleague at The Undefeated, the ESPN website for which Foxworth writes about sports and society, will meet him there. Their time will approach, and together with Mina Kimes, a Los Angeles-based ESPN the Magazine senior writer, they will debut "The Morning Roast," a weekly three-hour ESPN Radio show that runs until noon and will be many things, but not, Foxworth said, "boring as hell."
"I'm almost certain that it's going to be a mess on day one, but that's all right," he added. "That's entertaining also."
During his playing days, Foxworth was an open and honest voice in the locker room, but he said he never consumed much sports media or aspired to be part of it. "Didn't want to be the ex-jock sportscaster guy," he explained, which is funny to consider now, because the headline of his attention-getting column last January could have been written only about a former athlete.
"7-year NFL veteran Domonique Foxworth saw 'Concussion' and it made him question everything," the USA Today story blared. In it, Foxworth interrogated the costs and benefits of his football career. On the one hand, he can afford to live comfortably and send his kids to exclusive schools. On the other: "I have no guarantee that I won't be like Dave Duerson, Mike Webster, or Junior Seau."
That was scary. His brain always had been good to him. Foxworth enrolled at Maryland early and graduated early. At 28, he became the youngest vice president of the NFL Players Association executive committee. In 2012, he was elected president of the labor organization without opposition.
An ACL injury two years earlier with the Ravens marked the beginning of the end of his playing career, but he already was looking beyond. During the 136-day lockout of players in 2011, Foxworth got to know the billionaires running NFL franchises. In boardrooms, around conference tables, they were, for the most part, regular, hardworking people. But "super geniuses"? No, not that. Why couldn't he one day be a CEO, too?
After two years in Cambridge, Mass., Foxworth had an MBA from one of the world's top graduate programs and a job with one of the world's most popular leagues. Some of his responsibilities as chief operating officer of the National Basketball Players Association, he enjoyed. Most of them, he did not.
"Why am I doing this and spending obscene hours at work?" Foxworth recalled wondering. He had two kids at home and a third on the way. "It just made no sense for where I was in my life."
In October 2015, after barely a year on the job, he resigned. Of all the lessons he'd learned at Harvard, perhaps the most enduring was to value what he considered most important in life. That was family, of course, but also doing something he enjoyed, something that mattered to people.
When the "Concussion" piece resonated — online, the article notes that it has been shared over 13,000 times — a new career path opened before him. In May, he started to write for The Undefeated.
"I was faced with: So are you going to be this ex-jock-turned-media, vapid personality that spews cliches?" he said. "And I kind of tried to make a promise to myself that I would never be that."
He wrote about the fairy-tale mythology inherent in sports. He called on Aaron Rodgers to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement. He even recapped HBO's "Ballers." As his star rose and his imprint on ESPN expanded, he got to know some of the company's talent, Dan Le Batard among them. The ESPN TV and radio host told him how having a platform could be "hugely consequential." Foxworth slowly has come around to seeing why.
He has been called the N-word for what he has written, but at least he has an audience now, from his 31,000-plus followers on Twitter to the NFL executives who've reached out for his thoughts on how to gain a competitive advantage in their organizational management.
"Domonique is really intellectually curious and playful and is not afraid to throw out ideas on the go," Kimes said.
"I think what makes Dom an interesting voice is that he's legit a normal dude," Yates wrote in an email, and that might be what Foxworth has learned about himself, too.
In the company he keeps among D.C.'s well-to-do, he doesn't like having to announce that he went to Harvard. His conspicuousness in some settings — "the one 33-year-old black guy who's here" next to older, whiter company, as he put it — leads to assumptions. Like the assumptions he had about his own post-playing life, they are mostly wrong. He's not in the NFL anymore. He's out of the business world, for now. But at his core, he's still very much a corner, out on an island, doing his own thing.
"I don't fear failure," he said. "You can't be a professional cornerback and be scared to get burnt a couple times."