Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and while you contemplate leaving your friends and family for the consumer madness of Black Friday, I wanted to share a good story that is in the spirit of the holiday with you…
Former star NFL offensive lineman, Jason Brown, had reached the pinnacle of sports success. The kind that most dream of, yet few achieve.
After being selected in the 4th round of the 2005 NFL draft, Brown’s performance warranted him being considered one of (if not the) best center in the NFL. After his first contract was up, he earned a huge 5-year, $37.5 million dollar contract – $20 million of it guaranteed – in 2009. It made him the highest paid center in the league.
Three years later, Brown was cut to open up salary cap room, but was then offered another contract by a team greatly in need of a center and the one that originally drafted him, the Baltimore Ravens, for certain millions. Against his agent’s best wishes (“You’re making the biggest mistake of your life.”), he shockingly decided to turn down the contract and walk away from the game altogether, at the young age of 28.
At this point, you’re probably guessing at what comes next, and I’m guessing you are expecting something along the lines of the following: retired athlete burns millions on lavish lifestyle and ends up filing for bankruptcy.
Not quite. This story takes a much welcomed odd turn from the tragic default post-athletic career script we are all accustomed to. And it’s much more heartwarming. I’ll let you watch the short video and then we’ll jump back to the commentary.
Brown teaches himself to farm by watching YouTube videos (how else, these days?) and uses a sizable chunk of his savings to buy a 1,030 acre farm in his home state of North Carolina. He names his property “First Fruits Farm” because he intends to donate the first part of every harvest to local food banks. And he does just that – donating 10,000 pounds of cucumbers and 100,000 pounds(!) of sweet potatoes already.
Brown’s wife, Tay, leaves her career as a dentist to home school their three young children.
And it sounds like they are just getting started, with big plans for expansion ahead. They want to double their sweet potato output next year, and have hundreds of unused acres beyond that.
How’s that for an unexpected turn of events?!
When asked why he turned down millions, Brown eloquently responds,
Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone.
Now, I’m guessing less than a handful of you will go on to become NFL offensive linemen or earn $20 million+ in your lifetimes. So other than warm fuzzies, what’s the takeaway here? What can you or I learn from Jason Brown’s story that we can hopefully apply to our own lives?
- Financial independence opens doors. Jason realized that he had accumulated more than he would ever need for himself. He had enough. He turned down millions, sold his mansion in St. Louis, and chose a humble lifestyle. Easy to say when you have millions in the bank? Perhaps. But “enough” for you or I can be a tiny fraction of Jason’s earnings – and achievable by most of us – when we lead low-consuming and humble lives.
- Next, he didn’t let the potential to earn more money overrule his passion. In turning down MORE, he avoided the pursuit of more money trap that many of us fall victim to. When we reach our peak in our careers, there will be offers of more and it will be extremely hard to walk away from them. You’ve got to know where to draw that line in the sand and then stick to it. And you’ve got to know when to walk away.
- Finally, he pursued his passion and used his money in a way that he feels maximizes his value to humanity and makes him feel good about himself. I admire that. And it’s why I do what I do – the frugality, the savings, the earnings, sharing the message here with others – there is a greater purpose and passion behind it. I’ve been labeled a cheapskate by more than a few, but labels like that make it difficult to see the forest through the trees.
It is admirable that Jason walked away from millions, but his final step is what makes this a great story. Jason wanted to become the best possible version of his self, and live a life of service. For Jason, that meant using his money to feed those less fortunate. For you, it could mean something else. But shouldn’t we all aspire to do the same? When we exist mostly to accumulate more money and the stuff that it can buy, rarely are we able to achieve the goal of maximizing our value as human beings.
Cheers to you, Jason.
Ryan Broyles: a Frugal Pro Athlete Story we can All Learn from
Maybe not so much in other sports, but I’m surprised you don’t hear about more NFL players (kickers, punters, and possibly defensive backs notwithstanding) leaving the game before they turn 30 if they’ve already accumulated tens of millions of dollars. You hear so much about concussions, you’d think a lot of players would be worried about their future neurological state, let alone knees, backs, hips, etc. Yes, you hear about these players who are somehow bankrupt after earning insane amounts of money, but I’m sure there are plenty who save and invest wisely.
Take Tom Brady for instance. He seems like an intelligent person. There’s literally nothing else for him to accomplish in his career; he’s won several Super Bowls and MVP awards. He’s in his mid-thirties, his skills will likely start eroding within the next couple of years. I’d be stunned if he doesn’t have at least $25 million in liquid assets, and that’s a conservative estimate. Why does he continue to risk his future self to such risk?
The answer is probably quite simple. Brady is an apex competitor and his money, fame, and possessions likely pale, in his esteem, with his desire to cement a legacy as the greatest NFL quarterback in the history of the league — just as Jason Brown wishes to leave a legacy of charity and is devoting himself to that pursuit.
As for the prospect of permanent injury and diminished future health, Brady has likely succumbed to a sunk-cost fallacy: he’s already forsaken his body and health for so many years that he feels compelled to continue onwards given that his goal is within reach. I don’t necessarily think in Brady’s case, however, that this is an unreasonable position to hold.
Another reason that most of the players don’t leave the game could have to do with purpose. They probably find a lot of purpose in what they are doing (football).
For that matter, most of us find our purpose and tend to define ourselves by our “jobs.” Why else would one of the first questions we tend to ask people be “So, what do you do?”
When any of us choose to walk away from our day jobs (even the NFL for those guys is their job) we have to evaluate our lives and find purpose elsewhere. It can be a challenge, but definitely worth the pursuit in my opinion.
I’m truly grateful for Jason’s service and I hope it inspires others. I grew up in a farming community and was back there living for several months last year, long enough to catch up with friends old and new. I was reminded of the barriers we place on the people who sustain us. This article is a joyful reminder of a grim circumstance – that the best way to make a small fortune in farming is to start with a large one. While giving thanks to my farmer friends I also pray that they’ll become recognized as the athletic superstars they are – and start getting the financial rewards for it that they deserve.
This is great. It’s hard to explain to people sometimes, they just don’t get it, that I don’t spend so that I CAN spend. I can spend later and I can spend on others, THAT is why I say “no” to so much.
It doesn’t make sense to walk away from potential millions but it makes SO MUCH sense.
We were talking just last night about how great it would be to have a farm (in N. Carolina nonetheless and we don’t live there and hadn’t heard this story) and live simply and richly at the same time. Maybe we need to buy and be neighbors with this guy. ; )
I think that sounds like a great idea. He’d probably even be able to give you pointers.
On farming or football? : P
Never mind, I’ll take either. ; )
Sounds like he is maximizing his life and sometimes, that’s not about earning more. When I walked away from a corporate job to do something I felt was more meaningful at a fraction of what I used to make, folks thought I had lost my marbles. I can only imagine what folks are thinking about him.
When I 1st heard this on ESPN, I thought to my website, what an amazing story. We all need to do more in order to give back to people that are really in need.
I watched this story when it aired on Sunday Morning News (great program btw) and had many of the same thoughts G.E. I think he really had to be called by whatever he believes in to go and Farm because from a logic standpoint it does not compute.
1. If he was playing in the NFL he could have made millions, and more millions to give away…so I guess he felt that he could either help more people as a farmer or perhaps found much greater fulfillment from farming.
2. Was the NFL/football just a way for him to get to his dream job? (just like some of the PF community work a day job for years to get where they want to be down the road).
3. In my own life it does occasionally become difficult to realize that I’m not only getting to do what I love (teach) but I also get paid to do it!
It is great to see a man who is clearly focused on his dream and not let monetary influences persuade him from accomplishing his goals. He is an inspiration to us all…
…now if I can just find a way to make millions as public school teacher muhahahhhahahaha…sorry did I type that;)
Thanks for writing this up, I don’t think many people got to see the story originally and hope you had a peaceful Thanksgiving.
What a great story. Being able to pursue your dreams and passion and help people can be so rewarding. I only hope I can emulate a fraction of what this great man is doing to help people in need.
I actually didn’t know about this. Thanks so much for sharing! I love it that he turned away from the “norm” and is doing so much good for the world. Amazing!
This article got a lot of press for obvious reasons and its nice to see that kind if sell awareness in a pro athlete. Then again, that extra money would go a long way to serving other people over the next 70 years of his life.
Wow what an emotional story. I gotta give him a lot of credit to take that leap of faith and do what he felt was his true passion. It wasn’t about the farming, it was about the giving that he needed to fulfill in his life.
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