Zen and the Art of Quitting Football

We have a choice — in everything we do — between creation and destruction, yin and yang.

John Moffitt was shouting wisdom over the jazz ensamble playing at High Dive in Fremont Seattle, only a week after leaving rehab. With every club soda ordered, he left an overly generous tip.

I hated the NFL; I hated football when I quit. I wanted to destroy everything about it, but in the end all I was destroying was myself.

John quit the NFL in a fairly public manner, opting to walk away mid season and leave hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table. That’s a kind of passion few of us can likely relate to. I’m lucky to call John a friend, but even I couldn’t immediately comprehend his choices.

I had walked away from professional football, but that was staring down a $60k two year contact with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. John walked away from the Denver Broncos, one of the best teams in the NFL.

The NFL exists with or without me. I needed to figure out if I could exist without the NFL. It took going to a dark place for me to realize quitting the NFL didn’t necessarily mean I had moved on.

Watching my teammate from afar as he experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows these past few years, I always assumed he was just a numb passenger on his journey. Yet, during our Chautauqua, it became clear that John was anything but ambivalent. He was rejecting store-bought happiness in search of his own paradigms.

Sipping my beer and occasionally shouting in agreement, I found myself in awe of John’s introspection. If you’d asked me which of my freshman teammates I’d be closest with today, I certainly wouldn’t have said the guy from Connecticut who really loved squat day.

I found myself nodding more and more in agreement as he told me about the slow self destruction that came with hating institutions he couldn’t control. He talked about controlling oneself, growing internally, and finding external experiences to magnify that.

Somehow, John and I found ourselves in a full blown metaphysics debate in the middle of a bar on a Friday night. We were developing a personal thesis of creation. We were examining the necessity of balance and moderation, of personal honesty, of an openness to failure.

What is true? What is honest? We were performing an impromptu Hemmingway dialogue. Basically, we sounded like two insane guys in a bar, and the guy drinking club soda was footing the bill.

The road to happiness has been filled with potholes of self-realization for John. He’s undoubtedly misunderstood, but definitely not a dumb jock, and his introspection is proof of it.

John told me that he’s found happiness in a place where creation and love meet, but finding the intersection of passion and production hasn’t been easy. Destructive passions — no matter how just — are ultimately poisonous. And likewise, going through the motions is equally as abrading.

Leaving the NFL was certainly a major milestone on John’s quest for fulfillment, but the journey has just begun. In some ways, I hear him as the voice of a lost generation learning to build their own road, and, while he certainly marches to his own beat, I’m proud to call him a friend.

In the pursuit of Zen, John is teaching me to live in the moment.

The past cannot remember the past. The future cannot generate the future. The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is.