Senior Consultant & Former NFL Player
Defining Yourself, Advocating for Others & Achieving Success
You competed at the highest level in a tough, masculine sport: the National Football League. When you retired from the NFL you came out as gay, and you’re still one of the very few athletes to have done so. Coming out must have been a tough experience. How do you define toughness today?
For where I’m at in my life right now, toughness represents something that feels archaic or an idea that doesn’t align with my idea of healthy manhood. Personally I’m trying redefine the idea of toughness as the ability to ‘attempt’ to be myself and define myself for myself (as Audre Lorde says) and not to perform or show up in ways that minimize or mute who I truly am.
What’s the most common misconception people have about you? Is it the same misconception as before you came out?
Most often people want to see me only as an athlete. Or ex-athlete. And that comes with some historical baggage. I’m proud to be an athlete but if you start and end your idea of me as only that – well, it often causes the conversation to be very empty and hollow.
Think about what it takes to be successful in business today: assertiveness, aggressiveness, risk-tolerance, stress-tolerance, energy, empathy, and humility. Do you think there is a cost to matching individual personality traits to our perception of success in business?
I think we have to expand our definition of success which will hopefully broaden our understanding of the traits that we believe lead individuals to be successful. If people believe they have to follow a set ‘script’ in order to succeed then we will lose out on new forms of creativity, innovation and so much more.
When you’re advising clients now on building a diverse company, what’s the first thing you say?
I ask if they have defined the impact they want diversity to have on their organization. Because if they haven’t – then they are just throwing ideas against a wall with their fingers crossed.
Why is it important to bring men into the conversation about advancing women’s leadership in business?
Because right now, men are in power so you have to go to the source to understand our fears and our anxieties. Because fear is a factor.
What’s the most common error men make when trying to advocate for women?
There are three main errors I see: 1) That women are somehow are the problem. That women need to be fixed. Wrong! 2) That when men advocate for women – you should be rewarded or celebrated – wrong. 3) That it’s a zero-sum equation. And by the way – women didn’t create that math.
What’s one thing you never leave your home without?
A book or a talk by someone to listen too. Oh and lip balm usually Blistex.
You’ve inspired and motivated thousands of young people who you’ve never met. When you’re seeking inspiration and motivation, where do you turn?
Usually it is feminist literature or a foreign film. I often get the most inspired by a story that from the outset seems like one that is so different from my own but when I really look and erase the distance – I see myself.