In NFL circles, the name Don Davis brings to mind words like leadership, character, and godliness. A regional director of the NFLPA, this 11-year veteran is well respected by NFL staff, players and fans alike. If you were to meet him, today, you might get a sense that he’s always had his act together. Not so.
I reached Davis at his Washington D.C. office and he was gracious enough to take time out of his day to candidly answer some questions. Some of the things he says may surprise you.
Kim Anthony – Don, you have so much respect in the league for who you are as a person and your accomplishments on the field. I’ve seen you walk into a room and command attention by your mere presence. It’s God in you, I know, but that can be intimidating to some people. Some may think that they can’t relate to you because you’ve always been this good guy and you could never understand the struggles they face. So, share your story with me. Who were you when you came into the league?
Don Davis – Spiritually, I grew up in the church. I was baptized at the age of 13, went to Sunday school and had all this head-knowledge. Everything was going well for me. I was a good student and played all sports.
Then I get to college, I get some freedom and start to realize I didn’t have any self-control. My faith was on the backburner. It was “all about me” in college – I was the big man on campus, BMOC. Signing a contract and going to the NFL despite coming out of Kansas when there were only a couple of guys who had been drafted from there in the10 years prior, was a pretty big deal. So I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
I came into the league from the University of Kansas, an un-drafted rookie free agent, just hoping to make it in. I had a lot of disappointment. I was signed by the New York Jets and spent training camp there but didn’t feel like I really belonged.
Then I got released from the Jets. I came back home to Kansas City and was on the Chiefs’ practice squad. I see Derrick Thomas and he’s kind of like that idol for me. He’s the man. He’s got money. He’s got women. He’s just living the life. That was the picture of what the NFL was. That was how it was first shaped along with my preconceived ideas. You come in, you got all this money, you’ve got this power and the world is at your feet. So, I’m on practice squad and I get released three weeks after I get there. I wait a couple of weeks and no calls. Then I sell shoes at Footlocker.
If you want to talk about a humbling time period…when guys like him (Derrick Thomas), Lake Dawson and Kimble Anders are coming in and spending more money in one week in my little Footlocker store than I made in one month… Every new shoe that came out, they would literally buy every size I had, from (size) eight all the way up to 13. They wanted them all. That was just amazing to me. I still hadn’t really made that much money. I had a $25,000 signing bonus. And they came in and dropped $15,000 on shoes.
KA – So how did you handle that? These guys knew you from the team.
DD — They did. They knew me, but they were cool. They didn’t treat me like I was an outsider. We always chopped it up, but inside it would kill me. I felt like I was a failure and that I was never going to get back into the NFL.
A SECOND CHANCE
Four months after Davis had been cut, the Chiefs called him back. He took advantage of the opportunity and worked harder than he had ever worked before. After eight months of giving it his all…
KA – And that happens a lot doesn’t it? You can be a very talented player and still not make it in the league.
DD – It happens a lot. And that’s what I learned and I tell these guys especially from college. Not everybody is going to make it in the NFL. You can do everything right, have all the talent and can go to a wrong team. Certain things can happen and you never get picked up. Fortunately for me, I was picked up by the New Orleans Saints.
So now, I go to “Sin City,” everybody’s dream. There’s gambling, nightlife, Bourbon Street…the team is awful. So nobody at that team is really focused on football. Everybody’s focused on off-field stuff. So, I step right into it. The clubbing, the partying, and I am not what I pictured my life would be.
KA – So when you say they were not focused on football but on the off-field stuff, would they work hard while they were on the field but play harder while they were off the field?
DD – That’s exactly right. I remember the Kansas City Chiefs, who went all the way to the play-offs and were predicted to win the Super Bowl the year I was on the practice squad. They were 13-3, had a great team, and great work ethic. That was probably one of the top teams in the league and now I go to one of the bottom teams in the league and it is a drastic difference. In their defense, they felt like they were working hard, but I had seen what the other side looked like.
After my first year, everything’s great. I finally make a little bit of money. I’m partying and that kind of thing and I come to the point where it’s the off-season and we have all this time and I’m feeling kind of empty. The parties are over and it’s like, what am I going to do now? So, I ended up getting married.
KA – What? (Not a clever or well-thought-out question, but I was shocked!)
Don Davis (www.RealDonDavis.com) has so much more to share with us about his personal life, which is indicative of what goes on in the lives of many NFL players. So, I’ve broken this interview up into multiple parts. We’ll find out what happens when Davis decides to get married on a whim, in part two of his interview.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Is there a particular pro athlete you’d like me to interview about his faith? How has this story impacted you? To submit suggestions and comments, please contact me through www.KimAnthony.net or follow me on Twitter @RealKimAnthony. I’d love to hear from you!
More stories you might like