Note: The following appears in the Notre Dame football gameday program.
Anyone who has played or watched sports enough has heard, repeated or firmly believed the old adage, “ball is life.”
It is a phrase that symbolizes the undying commitment and love for sport but can have dangerous implications in its literal application. If we as people invest all we have and all we are into our sport, what will be left when we have no choice but to live beyond it?
This question brings us to a primary battle that P.A.W. Journey, Clemson football’s player relations department, fights daily against, football’s old adage, “life after football.”
No matter the level, football players are expected to live, breathe and be football until its often abrupt end comes in the form of an injury, a new and better player or a terminated contract. Only then are they challenged to know who they are, what they are passionate about and what they are capable of off the field, which is much too late to achieve a successful transition into a life that is not football. Thus, it is the power, purpose and preeminence of P.A.W. Journey, which helps Clemson football’s scholar-athletes and student-athlete development in the industry of athletics.
P.A.W. Journey has been debunking the “life after football” catchphrase with its theme for the year, “LIVE.” “LIVE” can be pronounced both as liv, meaning to experience or enjoy to the full, and lahyv, meaning spirited, invigorated, confident and fully engaged.
As a scholar-athlete development program that prides itself on empowering the young men it serves to build and maintain a lifestyle of winning, it is imperative that their enjoyment of life and the spirit and confidence with which they approach it is not predicated upon what happens in the football arena.
P.A.W. Journey’s annual Ball-2-B.A.G. initiative, focusing on how to successfully transition out of college and football, is one more way this player relations program reiterates the power of the “LIVE” theme. Tyler Venables, February’s P.A.T. Man-of-the-Month, a P.A.W. Journey ambassador and LyonJay intern, summed it up perfectly.
“Quit worrying about what isn’t certain and work today.”
As the primary originator of this year’s theme for P.A.W. Journey, it is no surprise that Venables understands the power of living in the now and passionately immersing himself in personally growing and improving, as that is the only aspect of life that is certain. Football is not certain, and neither is life after it, but every person who wakes up can seize the day they have and make the most of it for the dividends it will bring in the present, and thus the seeds it plants for the future.
Even in the new and ever-changing world of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), P.A.W. Journey is committed to every man in Clemson football understanding that his name, image and likeness does not begin or end with his ability on the field, but how he lives his life. This concept, couched as one of P.A.W. Journey’s belief statements, “Man Makes the Brand,” was the focus of this year’s seventh-annual player symposium, an initiative that aims to unify and inspire scholar-athletes through discourse and discovery about a relevant concept pertaining to their holistic development.
Those who truly embrace being live in the way they do everything are committed to demonstrating their high character and authenticity no matter the context, so their performance on the football field will not just amount to how much money they can make. It will be one more avenue through which they can add value in the form of wealth, influence and impact in the present and future.
From the symposium, Adam Randall, a P.A.W. Journey ambassador who serves his community at home in Horry County through his family’s Randall Foundation Inc., participated in this past summer’s P.A.W. Journey Showcase to work on his personal brand and expressing his identity. He learned that “to build a successful brand, it must start from within and not from outside influences.”
Through P.A.W. Journey, Clemson’s football players, like Randall, understand their power within a football context and can transfer that understanding to their lives overall. They are empowered to live with great passion and enjoy football and athletics, while also believing that their identity should never be a performance and should constantly be built on their self-worth and the work they put in to establish their character.
Blackmon Huckabee Jr., a P.A.W. Journey ambassador, an intern with The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and Adobe, a dedicated community servant and May’s P.A.T. Man-of-the-Month, understands this premise all too well.
“P.A.W. Journey is the great equalizer. It bridges the gap between guys who come in with a lot of high expectations for their football legacy and guys like me who do not come in with those expectations. It provides us with opportunities to start building a legacy and making a lasting impact, even if it doesn’t happen in football.”
It is one thing to have talent in football and opportunities to showcase it, but it is something completely different, as Huckabee shared, to see football talent as just one aspect of his identity and worth as he establishes his quality of life from a holistic lens instead of waiting for the outcomes football may or may not bring.
Passion with precision is the ultimate P.A.W. Journey perspective with this year’s theme. In football, “live” means being in play. We all know that when that the ball is in play, things can get aggressive, even recklessly so. Just as the best players and teams can harness their aggression to achieve their goals and purpose, P.A.W. Journey is holding Clemson’s football scholar-athletes accountable to being laser-focused on how they apply their passion, enthusiasm and confidence to their comprehensive identity and enjoyment of their lives.
Even enjoyment can be reckless, which happens for many college students during Spring Break, but not Barrett Carter, a P.A.W. Journey ambassador who attended P.A.W. Journey’s Business Week in Los Angeles during his break this past spring.
“This trip meant a lot to me,” said the January P.A.T. Man-of-the-Month. “While it wasn’t a traditional spring break trip, I was able to invest in my future, which is very important to me.”
It was important for Carter to experience enjoyment in a new way during his Spring Break by personally growing through lessons learned from some of the leading companies and professionals in athletics, entertainment, technology, marketing and real estate about how they turned their dreams into a reality in the work they do every day. Enjoying life to the fullest rarely means frivolity, and the first-class men and world-class leaders P.A.W. Journey is producing are building the maturity and emotional intelligence needed to make decisions and approach life with a desire to maximize it in a healthy and altruistic way.
P.A.W. Journey has made its mission to love and celebrate who its football scholar-athletes are as men and leaders, and that love and celebration is not reserved for life after football. That love and celebration is live, and the staff are committed to expressing it daily to educate and empower the men of Clemson’s football program to love and celebrate all their identities right now.
Their mission is to live their lives right now and not wait or withhold the power and value within them that does not pertain to football.
The best and purest preparation for the lives they will live after football must begin before football ends, and that is what “passionate about winning” really means. It is a lifestyle that each young man has the privilege to choose, no matter the arena or stage of life, because each step they take today is the precursor to how they will live tomorrow and in the years to come.