Professional athletes rank as some of the most famous faces in the country, particularly NFL players. The jaw-dropping physical feats players perform during games boost their status to such extreme heights, it’s easy to forget they’re people like the rest of us. Though a football star’s workplace and day-to-day activities might vary from what most would consider normal, they’re still devoting a significant amount of time to their jobs. And like any other career, a run as an NFL player eventually comes to a close.
So what’s it like to end a stint as a professional football player? We caught up with recently retired cornerback Chris Houston who was set to play with the Carolina Panthers for the 2015 season. You might be surprised to find out just how many interests he has. Get to know a bit more about life after the game in this condensed version of our conversation.
The Cheat Sheet: You retired back in August, when the season was just getting going. Was the timing all related to your injury?
Chris Houston: My foot, it just started to change overnight. It just got frustrating trying to figure out how to live with the pain and not be able to do the things I could normally do.
I took some time off and tried to rehab and do everything else I needed to do. Even then, just walking around on a daily basis, and even putting shoes on made it swell up. I couldn’t go through the grind of a football season.
CS: Could you talk about that decision a little bit. Were you at peace with it?
CH: The average length of a career for a person in the NFL is three years and I played seven, so I was relatively at peace with it.
CS: What was that transition like in the first few days?
CH: It was just really good to be off for a couple of days. Then it comes down to routine because you’re used to a routine your whole life. In college, in the NFL, you have a set routine, so you just have to find another one. That’s kind of the transformation I went through, just trying to see what else I could do as far as putting my time into something.
CS: The timing ended up being interesting with the season the Panthers had, ending up at the Super Bowl. Do you have any regrets as far as that’s concerned?
CH: Not at all because, if I could have played, I would have been there. But when you can feel the cleats through your foot and it’s causing that much pain, I knew I couldn’t get to the next level. It was all in God’s plan.
Before I left, based on the chemistry in the locker room of the Panthers, I told coach [Ron] Rivera that the team was going to get there based on the leadership they had.
CS: It’s sort of easy to think of football players as singular athletes, but it is a team sport. Can you talk about what that support system was like?
CH: If you have that support system of your coaches and your team and the philosophy of the team, those are the things you see in the playoffs each year. You see it with the Patriots. You see that with Peyton Manning.
If you don’t have that chemistry in the locker room, most teams aren’t going to make it. It builds confidence in the locker room if you have those who believe in you coming down from the top of the organization. Once you have that brotherhood, it makes it easier to win.
CS: Are you still trying to incorporate football into your life somehow?
CH: There are some things I want to do further down the road. We were working on coming up with my own little league football team. It’s something I want to do within a year or two to get in there and give back to the youth.
CS: Has there been any difference in your approach to diet?
CH: My diet’s pretty much the same. I was never one of those who had trouble with my weight or anything like that, so I pretty much ate what I wanted. It’s just changed a little as far as me wanting to live a healthier life, and reading more about my body. I’ve been not eating so much pork or beef and eating lots of grilled chicken.
CS: What about working out? Is that any different for you now?
CH: Not really. Working out is a passion of mine and it always has been, even before I made it to the NFL. My dad always worked for a fitness company and he had equipment in our house growing up. He was a muscular guy, and I’d be right there doing push-ups and crunches.
My routine really hasn’t changed because I work out four days a week like I did when I was in the league.
CS: Do you think there’s a difference between staying healthy as a professional athlete versus staying healthy as an average person?
CH: As an athlete, I’m probably different because I’ve had three or four surgeries. I think I’ll probably have more problems because of the contact of the sport. I started playing when I was 7 years old and I played until I was 30.
CS: How do you feel your priorities have changed now that you don’t have to be focused on the game?
CH: My priorities have opened up with knowing there are so many other avenues. It’s up to you what you want to do. I never said I just wanted to be a football player growing up. I also want to learn about real estate, about commentating, acting, writing short stories for movies. So, I think my thing now is finding a passion and pursuing it. Now that I don’t have football, I can focus on another passion that I had growing up as a kid.
CS: What’s the most important thing you took away from your NFL career?
CH: How to be a man. That’s the biggest takeaway. It teaches you how to be a man when you go through things, and how to bounce back. I think you need that in life to survive, to overcome problems you have. It let me know that I can bounce back from adversity.
Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec