By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider
The second installment of the 2017 NFL Business Academy wrapped up last week in at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with players gaining precious knowledge on franchising, accounting, real estate, negotiation skills, and more. They created and presented their team business plans and were placed in a position to expand their network with invaluable connections within related fields.
The 45 current and former players, along with their significant others, spent hours hearing from some of the best in the business but probably none more inspiring than former linebacker David Vobora (Rams, Seahawks).
Vobora was selected with the final pick of the 2008 NFL Draft earning him the title of Mr. Irrelevant, but his current track of excellence suggests his true value lies far opposite of what the title once suggested.
During the non-profit management session, attendees sat on the edge of their seats as he played a mini-documentary that was filmed last year in a partnership with Starbucks. The short film forced a change of perspective in a room full of world-class athletes and able-bodied civilians as it depicted the pain of a U.S. Marine veteran and amputee Brian Aft.
Aft shared the story of the day he lost both of his legs to an I.E.D. while patrolling with his unit in Afghanistan, the 30-plus surgeries he went through, and the sever heroine addiction that overcame him as a result. He was broken in a way that Vobora was familiar with.
Vobora’s NFL career ended in 2011 with a catastrophic shoulder injury. He was lost in his transition away from the game and an identity crisis placed him directly in line with a strong addiction to pain medications. All within weeks of playing in his final game, Vobora hit rock bottom.
“You work your whole life to be a football player and you want to be elite at that,” he said. “Then you get there and you’re torn from it, and you’re supposed to go be something else.”
Vobora spoke to attendees about the difficulties he faced during his transition and the year that he spent rehabilitating his mind and body. He also spoke about the self-realization that he went through in discovering his “why” in life and how he’s now helping others to do the same.
While recovering, Vobora desired a fresh start. In 2012 he moved to Dallas, Texas to open a sports performance center for elite athletes called Performance Vault, Inc. He developed Olympians and professional athletes at his gym and saw a surge not only in business, but also in his sense of purpose—but then he met Aft and several others just like him. He knew that there was room to do more.
He invited Aft to his gym that day in the parking lot and unknowingly changed each of their futures and those of countless others.
Vobora presented on how he managed his for-profit business and then leveraged it to begin a non-profit business under the same roof. Though he had no background in business prior to his current endeavors, he credited his inquiring mind and eagerness to learn as a base for the foundation that he has built to this point. He also credited the day that combat-injured veteran, Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, came into his gym. Mills lost all of his limbs to an I.E.D. in Afghanistan and is one out of five living veteran quadruple-amputees.
“I challenged him to workout with me,” Vobora said. “He kind of laughed and looked at his prosthetics saying, ‘I don’t want to make you feel like an idiot, but I don’t have arms or legs.’”
Many people allow themselves to be consumed by fears manifested in the mind—fears that have no real basis. Mills and Vobora could have easily yielded to self-doubt and concerns that neither had experience in training amputees, but together they made a commitment to succeed.
“The message is bigger than what we were accomplishing inside of the gym,” Vobora explained. “I realized that we could empower them and even start to defend against depression, post-traumatic stress and all of the other ill effects by using a constructive habit like the gym. That good pain really pushes out the bad pain of an identity crisis or hard transition.”
Vobora started the Adaptive Training Foundation (ATF) in 2014 to fill that void. ATF provides free training programs for injured veterans designed to rehabilitate them mentally as well as physically, help them rediscover their purpose, and redefine their limits.
“I started getting the veterans to train alongside my athletes and watch the two of them champion each other and have breakthrough after breakthrough,” he said.
Vobora explained that wave of success he is riding on is due in part to a lot of mentors that he has had along the way, something that each aspiring business man or woman can benefit from.
He shared his relationship with Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, and the support that the company has given his foundation. Starbucks created an original content series called Upstanders, the mini-documentary that the Business Academy attendees viewed.
Upstanders gained over 60 million views and now Starbucks is set to sponsor a full-length documentary called Scars, about Vobora’s story and mission. Vobora will also be releasing a book, The Hope Dealer, in tandem with the documentary in early 2018.
Vobora discussed his developed methodology to train trainers nationally to answer the call of over 10 million Americans with a physical disability—the first step toward branching out nationally and planting chapters of his foundation.
“I’m not that smart,” Vobora said. “But I will take credit for working hard, asking for advice, seeking the insight of those that are smarter than me and working my tail of to make sure that the mission continues.”
The 2017 NFL Business Academy was a success in many areas, but the theme of players using their platform to simply give back was set from day one with billionaire Stephen Ross (owner of the Miami Dolphins) all the way to day four with Vobora. Players and will return to their off-season schedules, but they will take with them the deposits made during this challenging program. Hearing stories of great success and horrifying failures, they leave equipped with the tools and connections to help change the trajectory of their families lives within the business realm.