From Defensive Tackle in the NFL to tackling young men’s problems in Ohio
Chris Scott cuts an impressive figure. The 6’5” former professional NFL player is easy to spot. And a few minutes in his company is all it takes to buy into his infectious enthusiasm for and commitment to his project, Boys2Men (http://www.b2minc.org/). Boys2Men is a community of mentors who seek to equip boys and young men with the necessary skills to be productive in their families, schools and communities by giving them guidance, advice, assistance and encouragement. Or, as Chris tells Athlead, Boys2Men’s vision is simple: to help boys become better men.
Athlead interviewed Chris, to learn about his journey from Defensive Tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, to founder and Executive Director of Ohio-based Boys2Men.
So Chris, tell us a little bit about your time in the NFL.
I had just graduated from Purdue University in Indianapolis with a degree in criminal justice. I’d always dreamed of a career as a professional (American) football player. But when I was picked 66th, in the third round of a 12 round draft, I was ecstatic. At the time, I never looked beyond the NFL: I just wanted to keep playing and stay on the team. So I worked hard, gave it my all, and listened to my coaches. It was an incredible experience: the Colts had moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis and we were paraded around – even given the key to the city. We played in front of 70,000 fans, but I was used to that: college sports are huge in the US and university stadia are often even bigger! But I did feel the pressure from our new relocation because I didn’t want to let our new fans down.
Sadly, your career came to a sudden end. What happened?
After four great years at the Colts, I tore both my ACL and LCL in a football drill. Just like that, my career was over. Four years is a decent run in American Football, but I was devastated. I had made no plans beyond my footballing career: I’d put all my and energy into being the best player I could be.
How did you recover from such a terrible injury?
It was really a dark time in my life, because I had no idea what to do next. It was clear to everyone that I would never play pro again. I had a degree in criminal justice but never had any interest in pursuing that. I did a series of jobs that I didn’t particularly enjoy, and I never excelled at them in the way I had excelled at football. But I had a family: a daughter and three boys of whom I was, and remain, very proud. And it was through them that I stumbled across my next move.
My youngest son had two close friends. They were nice boys but they were always getting into trouble. They dropped out of school, and worse. They were intelligent kids, but they had been given none of the structure and discipline that my sons had growing up. Then, some years later, my son was dropping his young daughter at my house, when his car was carjacked. We pursued the guy, and stopped him. We even got the car back, I’m not sure if he had banked on a former professional football player chasing him down! When I found out that he was yet another fatherless African American kid, I realised I had to act.
So you started Boys2Men?
Not immediately. I started researching, looking into the figures. My heart was in it, but I didn’t have any expertise. And I had no professional guidance; no one like Athlead to help me through the process. It was tough. But the figures spoke for themselves: 90% of kids who are homeless are fatherless; 85% of kids who exhibit behavioural disorders are fatherless; 71% of kids who dropout of high school are fatherless; 85% of youth in prison are fatherless. So I decided to stop talking, and start doing. I had to figure out how to set up all the organisational and legal structure, the mission, the charitable status. It was really hard work. It would have been great to have help with that from a specialist, professional organisation.
So what exactly does Boys2Men work? Tell us a little bit about how you work with the young people.
I often ask the young people to draw up a roadmap – to plan a trip to California. I tell them they need to think about lodging, food, gas money. They need to think about how long it will take, and what they need to bring with them. Then I explain to them that life is like a road trip: you need to figure out where you want to go, and know how you’re going to get there. You need to plan your future.
What skills do you think you developed as a professional athlete that helped you in your work with Boys2Men?
I learned a huge amount from my coaches. I learnt discipline, and how to be a team player. I learnt how to lose well, and not give up. I learnt how to step up when others didn’t. But perhaps most importantly I learnt to be selfless, and that you got to be the best you can be but also that you should help others. You can’t just think about yourself. And I think those skills made me a better father, as well as a better mentor for the young people at Boys2Men.
What’s your vision for Boys2Men?
I like to keep it simple: I help boys to become better men. We teach them the life skills they need to pursue core steps of education, skilled trades or entrepreneurship. Each kid has a different path, they just need to find it, and map it out. Just like that road trip.
We work on quality not quantity. If one kid came to me, and I was able to help him to become a better man I would be happy.
What are some of the challenges you faced, and continue to face, at Boys2Men?
The first thing I learnt was that the kids can tell a fake. They know if you’re not genuine. So I had to really build on a sense of humility, and realise this was not about me and my reputation. I had to really understand what the kids need. They want to know how much you care, not how much you know. You need to acknowledge, and help them address, their immediate needs.
Understanding that also helped me understand another challenge, which was the different culture of kids nowadays. Kids are so harsh to each other, they have so little respect. They cut each other up at every chance. So I learnt that what they needed to do, before anything else, was learn to respect themselves. Nothing else would enable them to respect their families, their friends and their communities.
I also realised that I had to become the role model they don’t see. So many kids have no male role models in their lives, or they have negative male role models. They have strong women in their lives, but men are rarely looked upon in a positive way. There are too many deadbeat dads in society who are not heads of households. There are a lot of negative stigmas, especially in the African American community. My job was to move away from all those negatives, and broken promises. To show kids that we have to be men of integrity, and that we are committed to our word. Only that will allow us to respect ourselves, and others.
How does running Boys2Men compare to being a pro athlete?
Life as a footballer has its own challenges! You are there only because you perform. If you can’t perform, you aren’t on the team. There is little time for family, often at the very time you need them most: there’s temptation everywhere. And you are a role model, whether you want it or not. You’re a public figure that people look to, and you’re also representing the franchise. If you don’t have strong family support or belief systems, it can be hard. And it can be lonely. My biggest challenge was always to be a person first, and a football player second. To stay true to my values, and care for others. Playing pro football was an amazing experience. And it was hard when my career was suddenly cut short: there was very little support at the time. So finding a new calling in Boys2Men is a real privilege.
What’s your proudest moment at Boys2Men?
I’ll tell you the story of a young man with whom I worked. He had great potential as an athlete, but had real bad grades which made him ineligible to run track. We worked together for three years, developing a plan to get him where he wanted to be. Everything from his classroom behaviour to his study habits. It was hard for him, but he stayed faithful to Boys2Men, and last year he got his grades up from a 1.4 GTA average (a D/E) to a 2.8 GTA (a B). He started running track in his final year, and now has a scholarship to Junior College. His dad suffered from substance abuse, and no one expected much of him. Now he’s breaking speed records. I am very, very proud of him.
What would you say to other athletes who are considering engaging in philanthropy?
I would encourage them to do it! Celebrity athletes can bring huge awareness to a cause. It is a great experience, and teaches you so many skills. It was a real challenge initially, because at the time there were no entities like Athlead to help. I learnt over time how to develop a vision, run an organisation, and use my resources to influence others. I have had great support from some of the pro clubs, but it’s about finding creative ways to get them to help.
I would also say that it’s deeply rewarding to be a positive role model. I know that’s not why we get into sport. But whether you like it or not, we are influencers. And you can be a positive or negative influence: that is your choice. I believe that if you are a man of integrity, a man of your word, that people will follow you. If you are willing to serve, and have the humility to put others’ needs before yours, you can change lives. So if you see something that troubles you, do something about it: be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
If there is a problem in society that troubles you and you want to be part of the solution, give us a call. Athlead would love to work together find out new and innovative ways to improve people’s lives.