Seven years later, Foxworth is thriving not as a CEO but in the field he once eschewed. He is a writer and commentator for the Undefeated, hosting a weekly digital series about the NFL called “I Don’t Give a Damn” for ESPN’s sports, race and culture site. He is also a regular guest on ESPN programs such as “Get Up!” “First Take” and “Highly Questionable.” While he has grown comfortable dissecting X’s and O’s, his multifaceted and ever-expanding role also has given him a platform to make people laugh and offer his perspective on more serious topics such as social justice and police brutality.
“Dude is just smart as hell,” said former NFL safety Ryan Clark, who joined ESPN as an analyst in 2015 and is happy Foxworth put aside his apprehension about being labeled just another ex-jock commentator. “It’s always cool to work with somebody or be around somebody that pushes you that way mentally. The best thing about him is what you see is what you get. He doesn’t get on TV and act. There are some people that become a caricature of themselves.”
Clark said he has bonded with Foxworth, 37, over the past two years, when the former defensive backs began making regular appearances together on “Get Up!” Catch the duo on what’s affectionately known to viewers as “Culture Wednesday,” and you might hear Foxworth allude to Langston Hughes while discussing the prospect of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence being drafted by the New York Jets or reference Michael Jackson’s 1979 album “Off the Wall” during a segment on Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
“Not only is he razor sharp, but he’s witty and he’s humorous,” said Kevin Merida, who left his position as a managing editor of The Washington Post to run the Undefeated in 2015 and hired Foxworth ahead of the site’s launch. “It’s an overused term in baseball, a five-tool player, but Dom can deliver commentary and write magazine-style pieces. I don’t know of a lot of ex-athletes that have that skill set. I can’t think of another ex-professional athlete with his versatility. I think he’s in his own category.”
As much fun as he has on TV, Foxworth is most passionate and obsessive about his writing, which he does less these days than when he started at the Undefeated. He considers his profile of Kansas City Chiefs all-pro defender Tyrann Mathieu last month one of the highlights of his tenure at ESPN.
“There’s nothing better than writing something good and publishing it, but that’s obviously the most difficult and the most painful,” said Foxworth, who wrote a weekly diary for the Denver Post as a rookie with the Broncos in 2005. “While I’m doing a podcast or while I’m doing a TV shot, I never think: ‘Ah, I’m terrible at this; this isn’t going to work. Maybe I shouldn’t do this at all.’ Every time I write something, at some point in the process, I want to throw my computer and I get angry. Whenever I finish it, it’s not always great, but when it is good or you feel really proud of it, that’s the best feeling that I have while working. It’s the closest thing to feeling like a win.”
Foxworth has been chasing that elusive feeling since he tore an ACL on the first day of training camp in 2010, one year after he signed a four-year, $28 million deal with his hometown Baltimore Ravens. One of the silver linings of the injury that effectively ended his career, Foxworth tweeted a few days later, was that he would be able to dedicate more of his time to duties with the NFL players’ union and “make sure there’s no lockout in 2011.”
Foxworth was introduced to the union by wide receiver Rod Smith shortly after he was selected by the Broncos in the third round of the 2005 draft. Foxworth was elected Denver’s player representative in 2007 and became the youngest vice president of the union’s executive committee the following year. He enjoyed the control and power of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, and the experience convinced him that NFL owners, despite being billionaires, were no smarter than he was.
In the middle of his two-year term as president of the NFL Players Association, Foxworth arrived at Harvard with the same ambition and competitive drive that fueled him at Maryland, where he graduated early, and throughout his NFL career.
“I made a few million playing ball, and I was going to turn it into a hundred million playing business,” he said.
Foxworth credited business school’s “soft classes that people think are stupid,” including those focusing on leadership and social intelligence, for changing his preconceived notions about success.
“It was the first time in my life where I stopped and took a break and evaluated everything,” Foxworth said. “One of my professors made a comment to all of us that stuck with me: ‘The operating system that got you to this point may not be the best operating system for the next chapter of your life.’ The crazy competitive, cutthroat operating system of a pro athlete was what got me there, and it was the first time I considered maybe I don’t need to be that way; I can let that go. It still pops up every now and then.”
Foxworth was appointed chief operating officer of the National Basketball Players Association during his second year at Harvard. It only took him a few months to realize the job, despite its impressive title and hefty salary, was making him miserable. With children ages 3 and 5 at home and a third on the way, he resigned in October 2015 after a year in the role.
Out of work, Foxworth began writing, something he had always enjoyed. In January 2016, USA Today published his personal account of his uncomfortable experience watching the movie “Concussion.” A few weeks later, he met with Merida at Cubano’s in Silver Spring, Md., and was offered a position on the Undefeated’s original staff.
“Whatever it was about my ego that wanted to get away from sports, I needed to swallow that and accept that it was a really good opportunity,” Foxworth recalled.
Foxworth, who signed a multiyear extension with ESPN last month, said his current job is fulfilling and its flexibility allows him to spend time with his wife and children, but he is always open to new challenges. Merida said Foxworth is “in a position now where he can kind of decide his own destiny.” When his kids get a little older, his ambitious nature might lead him to another field entirely, perhaps in an NFL team’s front office.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Foxworth said toward the end of a phone interview conducted while he played basketball with his oldest daughter. “Getting back into being directly involved in sports would be exciting. The wins and the losses and the hunt for a championship, that’s definitely a drug that you can’t replace.”
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