No NFL? No Problem: Finding Peace Readjusting My Professional Dreams

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After school, Barry had two paths presented in front of him: the NFL or the workforce. While many of his friends pursued the first option, as is commonly expected, Barry found closure with his football career while pursuing a Masters and playing his last year of football at Oklahoma State. Barry was excited to start his career outside of athletics, despite not knowing exactly where to take his passion for sports and technology. Now with EA Sports, Barry has no regrets about not pursuing the NFL. In this interview, Barry delves into learning about EA Sports’ office in Orlando, how his athletic background helps him on the job, and the moment he knew he wasn’t going to chase an NFL dream.

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Can you tell us a bit about your background.

I graduated during the Spring of 2016 and majored in Communications with a focus in Media Studies. I was a 4-year scholarship running back at Stanford. I currently work at Electronic Arts here at their Tiburon office as a contractor. So I am technically employed by Pro Unlimited. 

How would you characterize your student-athlete experience at Stanford?

A grind. It is not an easy task to be a student athlete at Stanford because you’re always dealing with adversity. Having to manage the demanding curriculum while also having to compete at the highest level athletically is tough to say at the very least. And wanting to manage a social life makes it that much more difficult.

 Stanford, Calif - September 12, 2015: The Stanford Cardinal defeats the UFC Knights 31-7 at Stanford Stadium. Stanford, Calif - September 12, 2015: The Stanford Cardinal defeats the UFC Knights 31-7 at Stanford Stadium.

Does a particular moment of adversity stand out the most?

The one that stands out the most was during our homecoming game vs UCLA. I was returning punts and on one of the early punts during the game, I dropped one. I ended up recovering it so it wasn’t a turnover but the fear of that happening again was excruciating. As a punt returner you feel like you’re isolated on an island and 50,000 people are watching as you catch this thing. But I never dropped another punt during a game while I was at Stanford. I was proud of that.

I also faced adversity off of the field. The biggest lesson I learned was how to respond to failure. I failed the first math class I took, Math 19. I failed many tests and assignments while I was there;  I failed to finish some team conditioning runs. But each time I just had to be self-aware to fight any bad habits I may have had so I could show improvements for the next time. One of the quotes I remember from our strength coach, Coach Turley, was “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react.” So being able to respond constructively in the instance of failure was an important lesson to learn.

After playing 4 years at Stanford, you went to play one more year at Oklahoma State while pursuing a Masters. What drove this decision?

I knew I wanted to get back closer to home (Oklahoma City) for my last year of eligibility. I knew if I had the opportunity to play my final year at Oklahoma State, I would do it. And after talking with the coaches and staff at OK State, I believed it was the right fit.

A lot of people around you were pursuing the NFL. When did you know that the NFL was not something you wanted to pursue? 

During our fall football camp at Oklahoma State we would have these team-building meetings every other day. These meetings were often led by one of our strength coaches, Joel Tudman. Coach Tudman would have a different message for us to reflect on during each of these meetings. During this particular meeting his message was “Developing the person is just as important as developing the player.” So as I sat there listening, I reflected on my football career and wondered what else I may want from playing football. I came to realize that there really wasn’t anything else. I made lifelong friends. I didn’t have any student loans. I was able to travel to some cool places and play in some historic venues. I hadn’t had any life altering injuries. Eventually I asked myself “What if I didn’t go pro?” and after weighing the pros and cons of all the different scenarios, I came to a decision not to pursue the NFL. I considered where I wanted to be in 5-10-15-20 years and I realized quickly that I didn’t need to play professional football to get there.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do at that point?

I didn’t specifically know what I wanted to do next. I did know I had an interest in sports and technology. I thought if I was able to combine those two in any capacity that would be a good start. My dad’s agent, Jeff Bernstein, was instrumental in helping me figure out my next step. He offered to introduce me to some of his contacts who could guide me in the right direction. One of those contacts was Randy Chase here at EA Sports in Orlando. I interned with EA at Redwood Shores going into my sophomore year at Stanford, so I had some familiarity with the company. I had no idea EA had an office in Orlando until I talked with Randy, and I knew I did not want to go back to California. 

Did you have any regrets about not choosing the NFL?

Not at all. I knew that given the right opportunities in the professional business world, I could find stability and happiness and continue to make all my dreams come true.

What does your role at EA entail?

My team is the Strategic Alliance Marketing team. We specifically manage all the athlete and talent partnerships for a few of our gaming titles. We manage all of EA’s NFL – NBA – FIFA – NHL team partnerships. There are a lot of really cool partnerships we manage and maintain. And this is the side of the business that I am most passionate about: the business of corporate partnership management and activations. 

As an Assistant Strategic Alliances Marketing Manager, I manage the day to day communications/relationships with all our NFL team deals for Madden. We have contractual agreements with NFL teams and it’s my job to make sure those contracts are executed effectively. And I also help our talent and athlete manager if they need help executing a contractual obligation from any of our signed celebrities and/or athletes.

Which skills learned as a student-athlete are most relevant to your success at Pro Unlimited - EA? 

Any athlete knows the importance of the process and playing attention to details. First, you must establish a viable and sustainable process. Then, you must be disciplined enough to trust the process. The same rules apply in the business world. 

With regards to specific skills, my organizational skills and my willingness to over-communicate stick out to me that connect to my success at Pro Unlimited. When I communicate with different partners, I make sure that expectations are clear on both sides. My approach is always to be clear and concise when communicating and never assume people know what I’m talking about.

Why is EA the perfect place for you or someone with an athletic background

EA is the perfect place because as an athlete, we can provide useful context to either how we utilize athletes when marketing our games or the actual development of our sports games. 

What were your biggest challenges transitioning into work from being a full-time student athlete?

As a full-time student athlete, you are always being productive; you’re either studying, practicing, training, competing, or recovering. So the biggest challenge for me was finding that same level of productivity. Even more so, finding that same level of productivity outside of work raised additional challenges.

Is there anything you wish you knew about the transition away from football before it happened?

I had so much time to prepare myself for the transition away from football that I was able to play out all the different scenarios in my head. When the time came, I felt very comfortable and confident about moving away from football. My parents biggest concern was that I would have regrets not pursuing the NFL, but I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets about it.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice as a student-athlete, what would it be?

Just practice more. Failing doesn’t mean you can’t do something, it just means you need more practice at it.