There will always be photographs, said Chris Carr, so his children will know that he played in the National Football League. But as Octavian, 5, Scarlett, 3, and Kelly, not yet 1, grow up, the memories of their dad won’t be of him on a football field.
“By the time they’re older, my main identity is just going to be a lawyer,” Carr said. “And so I’m proud of that. It will be good for them to see.”
Next weekend, Carr expects to graduate from George Washington University Law School. Of more than 500 students in his class, Carr is the only one with a Pro Football Reference page. A defensive back and kick returner, he played 125 games (regular season), intercepted seven passes, ran one of those back for a touchdown. A solid career. But that’s all past.
There are plenty of examples of retired NFL players who head back to school for degrees in law, business and other fields. Still, Carr’s career path is unusual.
“I like the sport of football and I really enjoy competing, but I never truly loved football,” he said. “Some people can truly love football, and a lot of those people, when they’re done, they have to be around football, so they’re going to coach or they’re going to go into commentary. But I knew I wasn’t going to be one of those people.”
The person Carr will be in his next act is starting to take shape. He plans to take the bar exam in California, where he hopes to one day open a firm. He has been learning Spanish. This month, he accepted a job offer from Zeman and Petterson, an immigration firm in Virginia.
“He’s one of those people that makes me really hopeful about the profession,” said W. Burlette Carter, one of his professors at GWU, a private university.
“He’s so darn uncommon, the way he thinks and the way he does things,” said Robert Tucker, who recruited Carr to play football at Boise State University in Idaho.
The NFL doesn’t have data on how often its players become lawyers or earn advanced degrees in other fields. But there are famous precedents.
Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page served on the Minnesota Supreme Court. The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White played in the NFL, too. Ed Newman, who won a Super Bowl with the 1973-1974 Miami Dolphins, is a judge in South Florida.
Newman, who entered law school when he was still playing, lamented stereotypes about NFL players — that they are dimwitted, troublemakers, womanizers, or that they are impulsive or drug users.
“All of that is baloney,” Newman said. “They are representative of the community, and all of those things happen equally in every community, not only the NFL community.”
He continued: “There are very bright NFL players, as many geniuses as there are in the normal community.”
Newman said his family encouraged him during his playing days to focus on the future.
“It was my mom who said, every morning you wake up, you should be thinking about the day you leave this NFL,” he said.
Miki Yaras-Davis, senior director of benefits for the NFL Players Association, said it’s fairly rare for a former player to have a law degree.
“I’m trying to think of the lawyers I know,” Yaras-Davis said. “I can count them on both hands and I have been doing this 40 years. Thirty-nine, to be exact.”
For Carr, 34, a native of Reno, Nev., law school was a dream that took shape years ago at Boise State when he took classes in civil liberties and constitutional law from Todd Lochner.
Lochner, now at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, described his classes as “brutally difficult.” He said that he had a reputation as a demanding instructor, like Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” series, who gives students aggressive workloads.
“One of the things I noticed about Chris was that even as an undergraduate, his ability to analyze case law, reason through the case law, was as good as first- or even second-year law students that I knew,” Lochner said. “He was spectacular in that regard.”
Lochner called Carr a “model student” who was always prepared despite the demands of being on the football team.
“He would just get the crap kicked out of him on the football field,” Lochner said. “And he’d be in there on Monday prepped, ready to go — as well as anyone else, if not better — in the class.”
Tucker, who was the safeties coach at Boise State and is now an assistant coach for the University of California at Davis, remembers that Carr would pop in to his office to talk about law school before he knew he would go to the NFL.
“There was never a question of whether I was going to go to law school or not,” Carr said. “It was just when I was going to go, and how long I was going to be able to play, and how long I was going to enjoy playing.”
The former cornerback and kick returnerspent nearly a decade in the NFL, with stints in Oakland, Tennessee, Baltimore, San Diego and New Orleans. He retired in 2014.
Concerns about head injuries, a major issue for the NFL, made the decision to step away easier. Carr, like other players, had heard scary talk about brain trauma from medical experts. He didn’t have a history of concussions, but he had been playing football since he was a child, which means he had taken a lot of hits to the head.
“It was just like, there’s something else that I want to do with my life,” Carr said. “And I played nine years, and why risk taking more risks?”
Carr grew interested in immigration law a few years ago, after reading Thomas Sowell’s “Ethnic America.” (“A really cool book,” he said.) That made him reflect on the country and “just how unique the American experiment was.” He read blog posts by Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, and the writing of Michael Huemer, a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado.
Carr knows that immigration issues are at the forefront now, but that wasn’t the appeal for him. He’s interested in other areas of law, too, including criminal defense.
NFL players hear plenty of stories about the transition to life after football and how difficult it can be. Carr isn’t the type to dwell on the past, though. Asked if he missed the game when he started at GWU, he said, “I think people think I’m probably lying when I say this, but no.”
Carr will watch the Super Bowl and maybe a playoff game or two. He’ll check the scores during the season out of curiosity. He does not want his children to play, at least not until high school. Then they would be old enough, he said, to make informed decisions.
“It’s to a point where I feel really removed, like I never even played,” he said. “It’s like this distant memory. Like when you think back to high school, you have memories of it, but it doesn’t feel like you ever did it. It just seems like a dream.”