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May 15, 2013

Former Terps great Domonique Foxworth gives back

While some Division I college football players don't put much emphasis on the "student" part of "student-athlete," former Maryland great Domonique Foxworth has always tended towards the intellectual side of the term. Although the 2004 graduate was a three-time All-ACC selection and played five years in the NFL before injuries derailed his career, Foxworth, 30, has accomplished even more away from the gridiron.

Not only is Foxworth the current president of the NFL Players' Association, where he's taken a firm stance on several key issues, but he's also spearheading a project with the University of Maryland's arts and humanities department; producing a documentary on college athletics; and heading back to school in pursuit of a third degree.


"It can be a bit stressful," said Foxworth, who has also delved into several non-profit humanitarian ventures, "but I just want to learn as much as I can and keep exploring new areas."

So invested is Foxworth in his post-playing career that he's barely had time to see a game at his alma mater.

"I've gone to a couple football games at Byrd [Stadium], but I'm not super involved in the program," Foxworth said. "But I still do root for Maryland, and I have confidence in Coach [Randy] Edsall. I don't watch a ton of games so I can't really break it down, but from what I've seen I think he's the man for the job."

The NFLPA thought Foxworth was the man for the job back in March 2011, when he was elected president less than a month after the Baltimore Ravens released him. Since then, he's spent the majority of his days trekking back and forth between his home in Baltimore County to the NFLPA's headquarters in Washington, D.C. Every once in awhile he travels the country to meet with the 30 NFL teams and to attend various league meetings.

"What I enjoy most, and what's the most important thing I have to do, is participate in the negotiations with the league on whatever the issue is at the time," Foxworth said. "Most people don't know negotiations continue even after the CBA [collective- bargaining agreement] is agreed to. The lockout was an intense, everyday focus … but we're always negotiating unresolved issues. There's always something [the league is] not happy about or we're [the players are] not happy about."

Two of the most prominent issues Foxworth has dealt with during his tenure are those surrounding player safety and the matter of openly gay players in professional sports.

The latter elevated into a hot-button topic after the NBA's Jason Collins became the first active pro athlete to come out as homosexual. Addressing numerous media outlets, Foxworth threw his full support behind Collins as an individual and the lesbian-gay community as a whole.

Foxworth went on to say he's sure there are gay players in the NFL, and at some point one of them will speak up as well.

"Our sport [football] is, maybe not a 100-percent safe place for homosexuals, but I think it's one of the safer leagues for them," Foxworth said. "And I think having someone come out will only help make more progress. In general it will be great for athletes as role models to continue to step out and set an example … for tolerance and inclusion."

Some have contended NFL locker rooms wouldn't be accepting of an openly gay teammate, but Foxworth wholeheartedly disputes that claim. He said many outsiders view NFL players as "half-evolved, primitive Neanderthals who just want to bash things and aren't very open minded."

"But I know that's wrong," he said. "[NFL players are] all college-educated younger guys who are more progressive minded in nature … People may not realize that we're not that much different than the general population as far as the way we think and act off the football field."

Meanwhile, player safety and injuries in the NFL has been an ongoing debate for years now. The lingering effects from concussions, especially, have made headlines after being linked -- medically proven or not -- to Junior Seau's suicide and the deaths of players such as Mike Webster, Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, Andre Waters and Chris Henry.

But while brain injuries are a major concern, Foxworth and the NFLPA are focused on curtailing a number of ailments that plague retired players. That's why they're teaming with Harvard Medical School to glean as much information as possible.

"There's a long way to go," Foxworth said. "Our study is going to encompass … injuries and ailments that are causing players to live a lower quality of life than we think they should. Brain injuries are a big part, but the knees, the hip replacements and other injuries that cause players to be uncomfortable in their daily lives are also important."

These issues aside, sitting atop the NFLPA is a demanding and sometimes daunting occupation. Foxworth said the players have high expectations, and it's a challenge to meet them. But for all he puts into the NFLPA, Foxworth has still managed to carve out time for his various other endeavors.

He, along with his wife, Ashley, who graduated from Maryland in 2006, recently donated $150,000 to launch "Foxworth Creative Enterprise Grants," a three-year project within the university's arts and humanities department aimed at uncovering new ways to solve society's most critical issues.

"I'm in touch fairly intimately with the university," said Foxworth, a vigorous reader and civil-rights memorabilia collector who majored in American studies at Maryland. "It's not a huge contribution, but it's a pilot, and if it goes well my wife and I are interested in making more contributions."

In addition, Foxworth is helping produce a documentary called "Schooled," which is set to air next fall on a yet-to-be-determined cable channel. He said the film is based off Tyler Branch's book "The Cartel," which details the NCAA's abuse of power and exploitation of college athletes.

"The filmmakers have been sending me trailers and interviews, and it's really going to be good. I'm excited about it," Foxworth said. "I invested in it because I thought it was a story that needed to be told."

Besides his professional undertakings, Foxworth will be attending Harvard's business school next fall. Ashley, meanwhile, will be enrolling in Harvard's education school, which, according to the former cornerback, is his wife's way of one-upping him.

"[Ashley] is the resident nerd," Foxworth said, laughing. "She already has a law degree from Harvard, and I was looking to close the gap because she has three degrees already … But she wasn't going to let that happen. … That's one competition I don't think I'm going to win."

If that weren't enough, the Foxworths are also caring for two young children, Avery, 2, and Declan, who was born just a couple months ago. And apparently Declan's birth proved to be a rather interesting dilemma for Domonique.

After watching his hometown Ravens and his former teammates make a run to New Orleans, Foxworth planned to be at the Super Bowl. He was in the Big Easy anyway for mandatory NFLPA meetings, but with his wife nearing her due date, Foxworth opted to return to Baltimore before the game.

"[Ashley] gave me the blessing to go [to the Super Bowl], but I would have felt guilty staying longer than I had to," Foxworth said. "I went back home to Baltimore, but it was a great game anyway. Being from Baltimore, it was huge and a really big deal around here. And having a ton of friends on the team, I was so happy for them.

"It was fantastic for Joe [Flacco], just seeing him add that to his resume, and I'm good friends with a lot of guys on the defense. And then you have Torrey [Smith] and LaQuan [Williams] -- they're former Terps. Well, I take that back -- they are Terps.

"Once a Terp, always a Terp -- right?"

Indeed. And as a Terp currently achieving greatness in his own right, Foxworth is certainly someone Maryland is proud to call an alumnus.

But Foxworth's current stint in the NFLPA's spotlight will be coming to an end in short order. His term as president is up this March, and after that he wants to have a reduced role in the association's affairs so he can concentrate on school and his family.

"I haven't really planned the next step from there," Foxworth said, "but I just want to continue to expand my network and continue to learn, and then see what the next chapter holds for me."

Once a student, always a student.


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