Note: The following appears in the Louisville football gameday program.
Many people hear stories about former professional athletes who have difficulty transitioning to life when their playing days are over. Participating in sports has been their life since the time they were youngsters, and it is difficult to give it up. Some even face depression.
That is not the case for former Clemson All-America tight end Dwayne Allen, who has transitioned nicely into working with the NFL Players Association. His current profession is in the player affairs division, where he has the title of player director.
His journey to this position dates to his time in Tigertown.
“It goes back to when I won the John Mackey Award,” said Allen, who won the honor presented to the top tight end in the nation in 2011. “When you win the award, you go to Orlando, Fla. for a dinner and meet with the people of the Mackey Foundation. During the dinner, they played a video about John Mackey’s legacy.”
Mackey had just passed away in June 2011 after a stellar college career at Syracuse and Hall of Fame NFL career with the Baltimore Colts, where he was famous for running over opponent defenses.
“I thought the video would be all about his football success, but most of it was about his work with the NFL Players Association and how much he helped his fellow players. You could see he was passionate about those around him.”
Indeed, Mackey was the first president of the NFL Players Association in 1970 after the NFL and AFL merger. Mackey made a major impact with his fellow players, as he worked hard to enhance player pensions and free agency.
“When I left that banquet, I thought this is something I want to do. I envied his career and his ability to help those around him.”
Allen was drafted in the third round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. He immediately sought to be involved with the NFL Players Association and became the player representative for the Colts in his first year. He continued to be active with the organization, serving as the representative for the Colts and Patriots over seven years.
“I was passionate about it. I had had the experience with the Colts when I went to the Patriots and was able to transition younger players into representatives. I wanted to empower the next generation.”
Allen was passionate about his performance on the field as well. He had an immediate impact during his rookie season in 2012, when he had 45 receptions for 521 yards and six touchdowns. Thirty of those catches went for first downs, and at the end of the season, he was named to the NFL All-Rookie team.
He had other outstanding seasons with the Colts, including 2014, when he had 29 receptions, eight of which went for touchdowns, and 2016, when he had 35 receptions for 406 yards and six touchdowns.
After five years with Indianapolis, he was traded to the New England Patriots. His role there became more as a blocking tight end, but he still was a contributor his second year when Tom Brady led the squad to the Super Bowl title.
“It was very cool to win the Super Bowl. Whenever you are crowned a champion, it is a tremendous honor. That parade in Boston was incredible. I had so much fun with my teammates that year.”
That Super Bowl victory over the Rams at the conclusion of the 2018 season was basically the end of the line for Allen. He signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins in March 2019, but he was later put on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and was released just before the 2019 season.
“I wasn’t physically ready to continue. I had no complaints about my career. I was fortunate to play with some great quarterbacks and teammates.”
Allen recorded all 20 of his receiving touchdowns on passes from Andrew Luck and Brady.
Soon after he announced his retirement, Allen was on to the next chapter of his life when the NFL Players Association called in 2020 and asked him to interview for a position. They had taken notice of his involvement with the union when he was a player.
Now in his third season with the organization, Allen handles five teams, Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco and the two franchises in Los Angeles. All are relatively close to his current home in San Francisco.
“It is my job to impart wisdom on all the players, but especially the young guys who are just starting out. I have been through the transition and can give them some advice. I share the union gospel and the benefits it provides, but there are a lot of other aspects to my job.
“A lot of what I do is educational. I host events or dinners, where I give them the history of the union and the sacrifices that have been made for them in the past.
“The history is very important. They are coming into the league and everything is laid out for them. They need to understand the fight and sacrifice those who came before them made.”
These presentations do have a link to his Clemson experience and Head Coach Dabo Swinney.
“I compare it to how Coach Swinney always paid homage to the Clemson players that came before us. He told us stories of the guys who paid the price to improve the program.”
Allen was certainly one of those who paved the way for today’s Tigers. He was an All-American in 2011, when Clemson won its first ACC championship in 20 years by defeating Virginia Tech in Charlotte by a 38-10 margin.
“Coach Swinney told us all year that it had been 20 years since Clemson had won the ACC championship. It was important to know that history as we went on that year.”
Allen had two receiving touchdowns in that decisive win over the No. 3 Hokies.
“My mission now is to preserve our game. I educate the NFL players and empower them to enforce the collective bargaining agreement. I am well versed in the agreement. I am part of a team like I was with teams when I played. Now, that team is the NFL Players Association.
“I try to go to as many games as I can and communicate with them. My schedule varies throughout the year. So far this year (including preseason), I have visited 16 of the 32 NFL teams supervising player rep elections.”
On one of those many trips to the Southeast this year, he made a stop in the Palmetto State to be inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame. As stated above, Allen was the recipient of the John Mackey Award in 2011, his junior season. He was also named a consensus All-American that year, when he totaled 50 receptions for 598 yards and eight touchdowns. It is still the Tiger record for receptions in a season by a tight end and is tied for the tight end record for receiving touchdowns in a season.
For his Clemson career, he had 93 catches for 1,079 yards and 12 touchdowns in 41 games.
“That was a great weekend, but I was exhausted,” said Allen with a smile.
Allen had traveled back and forth to Buffalo during the trip and spent a lot of time seeing friends back in Clemson. He was joined in the Clemson Hall of Fame that weekend by former teammates Da’Quan Bowers and Jacoby Ford.
Allen took time to see a lot of friends on the coaching staff and in other support areas, and he also took time when talking to me to mention their impact on his Clemson career.
“I would not have graduated without the help of Maria Herbst (athletic academic services). She stayed on me about my study hours.
“Danny Pearman was my tight ends coach and reminded me time and again of what I was capable of doing. He knew how to push me to be the best player I could be.
“And of course, Coach Swinney. The light came on for me during the 2010 season. Things did not go our way that year (6-7 record) and we lost a lot of close games. But when things deteriorated, Coach Swinney did not change. It is easy to be the positive guy when things are going well. But it is difficult to be consistent and optimistic when you are losing.
“Seeing Coach Swinney’s consistency won my trust, and I fully bought in and became a leader. That carried over to 2011, when we won the ACC title.”
It all came together for Allen on that Clemson Hall of Fame weekend.
“Hall of Fame weekend was a time to shine light on those people, and I did when I was inducted. I want those people to know how much I love them and appreciate how they sacrificed for me. There is a strong support system at Clemson, and I am a product of it.”