Domonique Foxworth was sitting across the table from billionaire team owners during labor negotiations as president of the National Football League Players Association when he came to a stark realization.
“It became clear they’re no smarter than me,” Foxworth said in a telephone interview.
Thus emboldened, Foxworth is about to embark on a new challenge that emphasizes brains over brawn. The 29-year-old former cornerback begins classes in September at Harvard Business School, whose alumni include JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Meg Whitman.
“You look at CEOs and people who run Fortune 500 companies, they’re regular guys who have made good decisions and have been disciplined and focused,” said Foxworth, an American Studies graduate of the University of Maryland. “There are geniuses, like Bill Gates, but for everybody else it’s really just a byproduct of good luck and lots of sacrifice.”
Reaching the pinnacle of the business world requires the same dedication and focus as getting to the NFL, Foxworth said. He was reminded last year by a Harvard faculty member that the people with whom he’ll be sharing a classroom put as much time, effort and sacrifice into getting accepted to the school as he did running stadium steps with an eye toward professional football.
Foxworth said he was “humbled” by that conversation and spent the past year taking classes at Loyola University in Maryland, his coursework heavy on economics, statistics and operations.
The third-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft had time for education because he didn’t play football last season due to injury. Even so, Foxworth’s tenure as union president doesn’t end for another year.
“It’s going to be a crazy year,” he said.
It’s about to get even crazier. Foxworth’s wife, Ashley, is due with the couple’s second child next month.
If Foxworth has any questions about how rigorous the academics are at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard, he can always ask his wife. A Harvard Law School graduate, she’s now applying to the university’s Graduate School of Education for its Education Policy and Management program.
“She’s obviously the brains of the operation,” Domonique Foxworth said. “I don’t know what I bring to the table.”
Attorney Jeff Kessler does.
Kessler, a partner in the New York law firm Winston & Strawn who has represented professional sports unions in labor talks, said Foxworth was integral to a negotiated settlement between the NFL and its players that ended a 2011 lockout without the loss of any regular-season games.
“I was constantly impressed with his keen understanding of the big business of professional sports and his ability to stand toe-to-toe with the owners on virtually any economic issue,” Kessler said via e-mail. “He will do very well in any business career that he pursues whether inside or outside of professional sports.”
Foxworth said his understanding of business began at 14, “when I started making practical decisions as to how I would ration my time.”
After a six-year career with the Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens that he says paid him more than $25 million, he can hold out for the perfect job.
“Football has given me flexibility,” he said. “I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I look forward to leaving Harvard with a much better network than I had before and friends with who I can embark on something more meaningful and impactful than football.”
Hollywood, not Wall Street, is his probable destination. Foxworth’s friends and contacts include Randall Wallace, the producer and director who wrote “Braveheart.”
“Randy was telling me that the key to success is integrity,” Foxworth said. “It’s something I believe in.”
His dream job is to become a writer for “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” which Foxworth said maintains its integrity while being entertaining.
“That speaks as to what speaks to me,” he said. “That type of artistic integrity. Maybe entertainment is where I end up.”
Foxworth is spending Super Bowl week in New Orleans, where the Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers for the NFL title on Feb. 3. Then comes life after football.
“The experience in the NFL was great,” Foxworth said. “But it’s a stepping stone.”