From the outsider’s perspective, it may appear that NFL players have everything that one would want or need in life: fame, fortune, and football. Isn’t that the American dream?
Don Davis, former NFL linebacker, knows otherwise. As the Senior Director of Player Affairs and Development for the NFL Players Association, Don now devotes his time and energy to offer the players resources that often go overlooked.
The NFLPA, as its name would suggest, is the players’ union, and like all unions its primary function is to represent its members when negotiating with management. But the organization has a much much broader role in ensuring the wellbeing of players and their families; the NFLPA offers to both former and current players resources for mental health, safe travel, finances, career counseling, and many other tools for them to utilize for a healthy and balanced life.
A key part of what the NFLPA does is provide avenues for players to reach out to their local communities; as a result of one opportunity, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins has established a foundation to raise funds to provide leadership curriculum and scholarships for youth local to him. Because of another, Patriots WR Aaron Dobson is currently partnering with local organizations to give away 200 Thanksgiving turkeys to families in his hometown of Dunbar, West Virginia.
Having spent most of his NFL career with the New England Patriots, Don not only earned two Super Bowl rings as a linebacker, but went on to join the coaching staff and later became the team chaplain. Transitioning out of that role into his current role with the NFLPA, Don realized his vision was aligning with the mission of the PA in terms of the positive influence and care he could offer to players and their families. Now he is able to help the players in a very practical and direct way both on and off the field.
He knows firsthand the pressures and needs of an NFL player.
“You can’t lead if you haven’t followed,” he says. “You can’t give what you don’t have or haven’t seen. The Lord’s been gracious to me. He’s opened the doors for me to be a witness to the players.”
In order to be an effective resource, Don places high importance on maintaining a good work/life balance in his own life.
“It’s all about spiritual discipline,” he emphasizes. “Athletes are so used to our lives being regimented. I start my day every day in the Word. I make a lifestyle of praying throughout the day. I end every evening with some time in the Word.”
Though he’s not on the field anymore, Don still faces the struggles and challenges that come with life in the world of the NFL.
“It’s a constant process of refining,” he adds. “Environment also plays a huge part in that refining process. Having accountability people in my own life, surrounding myself with people who can build me up and not tempt me to be pulled down is extremely important.”
Don recently completed his annual nationwide travels, visiting each team and their Player Reps (players who have been identified on each team to lead and represent their team mates) to make sure that all the players are aware of all the resources available to them.
“We are there for the players,” says Don, “to be a support and to provide a great environment for them to grow in their careers and have great post-career lives.”