At the time, I didn’t call it “transition”. I didn’t know what that was, because no one talked about it. I remember when I was retiring, I was like “I can’t talk to anybody about what is going on with me”.
Donnie Edwards, former Trust Captain and current NFL Legends Pacific West Coordinator, sat down with The Trust to discuss his role in the community and passion to serve. Edwards played 13 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.
“ I remember when I was retiring, I was like 'I can’t talk to anybody about what is going on with me. ”
One of the defining moments throughout my transition was when I started yoga. My wife introduced me to yoga, and at first, I was hesitant. But she kept pushing me because she knew its benefits: good for the body, strength, balance, and mobility. One day a guy challenged me to take the teacher training and I was thinking “I don’t want to be a teacher, just the best in the class.” On a whim, I agreed to do it.
The first two weeks, we didn’t do any yoga at all. We self-reflected. We had to look inside ourselves and find out who we are and why. As a football player, the cameras are always on you and for the first time in my life, I had to turn that camera around and look at myself. I was scared, but at the same time happy, because it made me really look at myself. You have to find that thing that really makes you look at who you are. It can be anything for someone else, but for me, it was yoga.
One of the most memorable moments was when we went around the room and had to introduce ourselves. I introduced myself as “Donnie Edwards, NFL football player,” and the instructor said “No Donnie, that’s who you were. Who are you now?”. That was the biggest wake up call – because I knew deep down inside, I didn’t know. I felt insecure but I had to face it. This made me realize in order for me to go forward I had to look at where I am right now and be OK with it.
If I didn’t take that moment to pause and self-reflect, I’d probably still be in the same situation nine years later, banking on my identity as a football player.
“ I introduced myself as “Donnie Edwards, NFL football player,” and the instructor said “No Donnie, that’s who you were. Who are you now? ”
I would say, “My name is Donnie Edwards and I am a philanthropist.” I love to give back, I love to serve. I have been blessed with so much and now, I live a life of service. I am grateful for what I have and grateful for the opportunity to do what I do.
The NFL Legends Community is just another way we can connect, embrace, and celebrate our players for their careers. It’s so important for former players to know what programs, services, and benefits are available to them.
My role is to help guys stay connected to their teams, the league, and their brothers. It’s all about togetherness and making sure we look out for one another.
“ It’s like a locker room outside of the locker room. ”
Part of what I do as well is connect with the teams. I make sure we include the teams in my region in any events we host because when players leave, they sometimes have a little animosity towards their old teams. You have to put that aside and say, “I’m going to connect with my brothers.” It’s like a locker room outside of the locker room.
I’m a pretty outgoing guy so just calling guys and connecting with them– it’s important for me. It helps me as I’m helping them, it’s mutual.
Sometimes I’ll call a guy and he’ll say “Man, you’re the first NFL player I’ve talked to in five years.” All of a sudden, they become so open about what they’re going through. This helps me figure out what programs we, as a community, have in place to help him. The most rewarding is they call back a few months later and say “Bro, I appreciate it.” That’s the best feeling. I’m so happy that I’m on the front end of serving our guys.
I run a non-profit called Best Defense Foundation. It’s a military-based foundation that honors our military veterans. All of my family served in the military, so this was my way of recognizing veterans for their service and sacrifice for this country.
One of the ways we honor our veterans is through our Battle of Return program. I’ve been taking WWII Veterans back to their battlefields for 14 years. I just completed a program with NFL Films for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We took 16 WWII veterans this year.
We also created a transition program for members of special force units. We connect NFL players with them so they can help one another through their transition.
After the game of football, it’s all about service for me– whether it’s with our Legends Community or with our veterans.
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