The Business Of Football: A business conversation with Nic Harris
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
Whether on the field (Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III’s amazing rookie season) or off (the tragic murder-suicide involving Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher) few things capture the American imagination quite like NFL football and the personalities that play and surround the game.
Among those personalities is former Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers linebacker Nic Harris, who’s currently a free agent following rehab from a knee surgery in 2012. Born in 1986 to teenage parents who abandoned him when he was only 3 months old, Harris avoided the foster care system thanks to grandparents, distant relatives, family friends and even coaches who took him in at various points in his childhood. After graduating near the top of his high school class, he became one of the most sought-after prep athletes in the nation — fielding more than 60 Division I scholarship offers before settling on the University of Oklahoma, where he enjoyed an impressive football career and earned a degree in kinesiology with minors in African-American literature and sociology. In a conversation with Las Vegas Black Image, Harris shared his thoughts on the business of football and exceeding self-expectations.
How long did you play in the NFL?
I was drafted in 2009, and my latest professional game was January 2011 — right before the lockout.
Why is there such immense attraction to the game of football?
I would say first and most obvious is the competitive game. Secondly, it’s a major marketplace for notoriety, where crazy dollars are made.
Are the dollars as “crazy” as they were 10 years ago?
Every year, the league minimum increases 20 to 30 percent. Let’s say for instance, in my rookie year, the pay was $3.1 million. Now, it is $3.7 million, and it increases drastically each year. Not many other professional sports offer wages like this. Now, with the international games and taking football abroad, profitability is high.
How did you manage to excel in college academically while playing football at such a high level?
You have to have a great support system. My godmother put that buzz in my ear when I went to the University of Oklahoma. She said, “We love you in your home of Louisiana, but now you have to go and make them love you in Oklahoma.” I went to college with a mindset to exceed expectations — including my own. I knew I wanted to excel for myself, and to be able to give back to my community. I decided to pursue professional sports to have a national platform that would afford me opportunities that I could share. It was hard to balance achieving an optimal level in sports and education, but I was determined to make the grades. Not just to get by, but to go beyond my own expectations.
When you graduated from college, you entered the NFL. There have been several incidents of football players in the NFL who have suffered from mental breakdowns that led to suicide and other tragedies. Do you think there is a correlation between the physical traumas in the game and mental disorders?
First, my condolences go out to my entire NFL family and the Jovan Belcher family. Some people think there is a correlation, but that is not my area of expertise. But, what I can say is that there is a lot of stress in professional football. It is performance-based, and every week there is a level of pressure. People don’t understand that. Each Tuesday, the coaches bring in a player who can take your place on the team. Not only can these new players take your place, but they will accept less pay. Ultimately, it’s about maximizing performance and minimizing pay. People hear about the feel-good stories of players getting paid $6 million and $7 million — but in actuality, only two guys on every team make that kind of money.
What gives you determination to go beyond expectations?
I have to give all the credit to my grandmother, who basically encouraged my success. She told me to be the best you can possibly be, but to also be a blessing to someone else. So, when you have an opportunity to be a blessing to someone else, you never shy away from that light.
How does one prepare to be the best in the game of football?
I have been out of the league for about a year-and-a-half because of my injury. First, you have to stay healthy and conquer different hurdles. You must understand that not everybody is going to make it to the NFL. I tell everyone to get their education while they are playing the game at a high level. There are a lot of great athletes walking around the streets and working at Best Buy stores. It takes a bit of luck, as well as having a destination where preparation meets opportunity. There was a “Michael Jordan” out there before Michael Jordan made it big. You have to train hard, be extremely resilient and have a short-term memory. Not all things on the playing field will go as planned. You have to be able to forget extremely quickly, and move on to the next new play.
You played for a UFL team in Las Vegas?
I did, and it was the most fun with the greatest bunch of guys I have ever played with. Unfortunately, the league folded because of lack of funding. But, I played to prove to myself and others that my surgery was a success and I am ready to get back into the NFL. Currently, I am doing what my minister said: “You have to take care of the meantime.” I am working with my community football camps for children, acting and modeling. I still have a lot of football in me, and just need an opportunity for someone to give me a green light.