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Going Beyond the Endzone

With Larry Fitzgerald

Season 5, Episode 7 | May 31, 2022

NFL legend Larry Fitzgerald joins us to talk about his decision to step away from football on his own terms after 17 seasons, how he intentionally planned for life off the field, some of his most meaningful accomplishments, and the importance of philanthropy, mindset, and his values and beliefs.

Larry Fitzgerald is a former NFL wide receiver, philanthropist, investor, and business owner. He played for the Arizona Cardinals for 17 seasons and holds records in several categories, including franchise career leader in receptions, receiving yards, and total touchdowns. In 2019, he was selected to the NFL’s 100 All-Time team, honoring the best players of the NFL’s first 100 years.

In 2005, Fitzgerald established The Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund with the goal of closing the reading and technology gap in under-resourced schools, in addition to funding breast cancer research and support services in honor of his late mother.

His philanthropic work has also included volunteering on service trips to support economic development projects in Senegal and Ethiopia and delivering hearing technology in countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. In 2016, he was awarded the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, the NFL’s highest honor recognizing charitable work. Fitzgerald is also a member of the Phoenix Suns’s ownership group and is currently on the Board of Directors for DICK’s Sporting Goods.

When asked about his core values and beliefs, Fitzgerald says three words come to mind:

  • Faith: Your faith is your foundation.
  • Focus: You have to stay focused on the objective, whatever that may be.
  • Finish: If you started or committed to something, see it through until the end.

“Growing up, we always talked as a family about faith, focus, and finish,” recalls Fitzgerald. “This is something I do with my kids now and it sets a good tone.”

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Transcript: Going Beyond the Endzone

Season 7, Episode 7  | May 31, 2022

[MUSIC PLAYING]

All right, Larry, we’re excited to have you on LT Talks and also be the feature on our upcoming issue of Experience Life. Thanks you for coming on. How have you been doing?

I’m fantastic. I’m excited about being the cover person. And, obviously, I’m a big fan of Life Time- the brand, the lifestyle, everything that is associated with the company. And it’s great to be with you guys.

Awesome. Awesome. it’s our pleasure to have you. So let’s talk about where you’ve been up to over the past 17 years. You’ve played with the Arizona Cardinals and included a trip to the Super Bowl in 2008 and multiple record-setting accomplishments along the way.

So you made a conscious decision last season to step away. Can you talk to us a little bit about that decision and why it was important to do it on your own terms?

Well, I mean, it’s something that as you get older in your career, you start looking at the landscape and figuring out what you want to do, what your five-year plan is with the team you’re planning and it’s going to be. And so what happened was I literally was just getting prepared for the season. And I was like, man, I’m just not really feeling it at this point.

And so I decided just like, hey, it’s that time. And I talked to a bunch of guys- the Cris Carters and all the guys like before. It’s like you’ll know. You’ll know when it’s time. And there was no question in my mind that I was ready mentally, physically, psychologically to move on.

The good thing about it, though, I prepare for many, many years. I first did my first internship at JP Morgan in 2009– a two-week seminar financial literacy. And at that point, I really just started diving deep into everything that was outside of sports.

I knew I could play ball. I played at a high level. But there’s a shelf life to being an athlete. And I wanted to make sure I was prepared for when that transition was to come. You never know in sports when– either you’re going to decide to be done or the game would be decided to be done with you.

And I just didn’t want to get caught holding the bag. You get hurt. And somebody tell you that you’re no longer needed. And you’re not prepared. And you’re not able to do anything that you really enjoy doing outside of the game. And so I work really hard to prepare myself for that.

Yeah, absolutely. And just building off of that, I mean, it takes courage to step away from something you’ve known so well. So when you were thinking about that, what example were you trying to set? I know you have children and all of that. So how did that play into your decision?

Well, I mean, I took everything into consideration- talk to them, talk to family, talk to people I really trusted in terms of their opinions. But all in all, it’s your decision personally and what you feel is best for yourself and your well-being.

Football is a very– it’s a tough sport. It’s physically demanding on your body and taxing occupation. It’s not like sitting at a desk and being able to sending return emails and do things like that. I mean, it takes a lot of really, really physically demanding occupation, getting beat up, and slammed down.

And it’s just tough. It’s tough. And so if you’re not willing to continue to pay the price, it’s necessary to be great at that. It’s not a job that you can just put half the effort in. You got to be fully committed. And I just wasn’t willing to put that type of effort and commitment into it any longer.

But my kids were good with it. They were sad initially. But they were happy to have me being in their lives more frequently. I didn’t have to miss the practices and travel on the weekends and miss their games. And I’ve been able to do all of those things and be very supportive of them in the same way they’ve been supportive of me. And that’s what I really based it on at the end of the day.

So, Larry, you talked about a little bit of the physicality and building up that tolerance over the years. One piece that I want to throw at you is the mental resilience. And when you go back to earlier years in your life, what was that foundation like? Who provided that foundation? Who was the early influencers in your life to allow you to become the young man that you are now?

Well, I mean, that’s a great question. And I see very often guys on the professional level, you have a lot of pepple who really help shape you throughout the course of your journey. And I don’t have to look any further than my two parents that were at home.

They always set a great example for my brother and I to follow. They worked in two completely different ends of the spectrum in terms of their occupations. My dad is a sports journalist, has been for 42 years [INAUDIBLE] area. My mom was on the not-for-profit side.

So two completely different experiences. So for instance, I’ll be on the sideline for the Vikings as a ball boy on Sunday. And then on Monday, my mom will be hosting a charity event for people who are battling for her lives, the cancer or HIV and AIDS.

And so we saw a completely different ends of the spectrum. And it gave us great perspective on just balance of life, how grand it can be and how hard it can be, and finding what you can do to make people’s lives better- what my mom did. And so just trying to be able to have that balance and be able to focus your attention on the things that are really important. And we’re really able to get that in my time, growing up from birth until I was 18 and left the house. And so they always had a great example to set the bar very high.

That’s awesome. You’re talking about what’s been important to you and what the influence of your parents. I know that you’ve had a lot of accomplishments on the football field.

But I know you’ve also said in interviews that it’s a lot of what you’re doing off the field that matters most to you. And that includes philanthropy work and being an advocate and your foundations. Can you talk a little bit about that and why you decided to focus so much of your time and effort in that space?

Well, I mean, it’s the things that are most meaningful. There’s so many people I can point to and experiences that I can point to that really helped shape who I am as a person. Like, it was great that I could catch a football.

But at the end of the day, it’s a pigskin ball that I caught. I wasn’t working at Mayo Clinic. I wasn’t finding different treatments to battle leukemia and lymphoma and saving lives across the world.

Let’s not be confused. I was an entertainer. And I don’t place a significantly higher value on that, even though I did it for a living. I just have a great deal of respect for people who really can leave an indelible mark on our world and the people that live in it.

Years from now, people will remember that I got 100 touchdowns or caught a couple of thousand yards of receiving. That doesn’t matter. But the young people that I’m able to positively touch with things that we do to our foundation, they will remember that because I do.

I remember being at– or at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital and being there, getting- I had a little procedure done. I had to stay overnight. I remember Kevin Garnett coming to visit that hospital.

I mean, Kevin Garnett had known me from Adam. He saw me in the hospital. And he showed me love. I was down. And he built my confidence up.

And is that the reason I made it to be a professional athlete? Who’s to say? But I just know he stepped out of his way. He didn’t have to be there that day. He chose to do that on his off day. And it meant a lot to me.

And so I take those experiences that I’ve had growing up. And I try to do to some of the same things that were done to me that made me feel good. And if I can just change one young person, who maybe have, without my mentorship, gone a little bit off course, if I could just help that one person to be able to fulfill his dream, think about what he’s will be able to do and what that means to him, to his family, and to the other people that he’s going to be able to touch, so I guess it’s so much bigger when you can do things off the field or off the court or in your community that you live in.

A lot of power and purpose is what I hear there. And you kind of said you had that foundation from your parents and now being able to give back. Granted, yeah, it was catching that [INAUDIBLE] in. And it was- even with all the accomplishments, you were able to take the platform that you had to utilize that to show others how to come across what identity and the power and knowing who you are and what you can do with your life.

So with that, when you speak to- if it is young adults or kids, how do you now channel a little bit as far as your personal experience and how you speak to them on how they can get on their journey within theirs?

Well, I mean, what I see a lot in the schools that I go to visit, especially predominantly African-American or Latino communities, there’s like a- you talk to the kids. And you ask them what you want to do. And I mean, I would say 90% of them say that I want to be an athlete or I want to be an entertainer.

And so just want to talk to them about being well-rounded no matter- there’s nothing wrong with being a doctor or a lawyer or entrepreneur or starting your own business. I mean, there’s a lot of different ways you can find success. And I just think that a lot of times in our communities, the only way they see success is through entertainment. And I just want them to understand there’s a lot of different ways that they can do that.

And it’s tough for me to say that. Because I found my success to entertainment. But what’s going to sustain me for years to come, it’s not going to have anything to do with entertainment. And so I think it’s important to be well-rounded.

I talk often about just being versatile and having a lot of different avenues that you can explore and not limiting yourself to one mindset, to one thing. There’s a lot of different ways you could skin a cat, so to speak.

You mentioned mindset. And I’m wondering in a 17-year career, were there moments when it felt like it wasn’t worth it? And how did you overcome that mindset? Or were there other times- to reframe that question a little bit, like, how did mindset influence you in the really hard times? Or how did you use that to your advantage?

Well, mindset is everything. And I would say that’s probably my greatest attribute about everything that I could do. My mindset always was pretty solid. Any time I went through some adverse, I could always– when I’m going through tough things, I always look back, and I think about things that are actually really tough, you know?

I talked to guys in the locker room. And I didn’t get– I only had two catches last week. And I’m like- I went over to the hospital last week. And I saw a guy who was in a car accident. He’s paralyzed from the neck down. He’s got a family of four.

Like, that’s real adversity. That’s real tough. I’m not catching a ball in the game is minuscule in terms of what division of tough is in the world. I mean, there’s people all across our global haven’t eaten a meal today, you know? And you go in your refrigerator. And you have 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 different options of what you want to eat, you know?

So there’s real struggles out there. And so I always try to make sure I was keeping everything in the right framework, right- and so that always helped. I just have so many times I saw people actually really going through tough times. It really just helped me kicking myself back into the right place.

Yeah, I didn’t perform the way I wanted to perform. But it’s a true blessing to be able to do something that you really love to do. And it’s something that you always dreamed about doing. So it always- I always was able to keep it things in its proper place.

You want to go back to the purpose. And Tim Hightower, we connected on it earlier before we got on. And he always spoke to Rick Warren’s like purpose driven. He was huge on purpose driven.

And he shared with me- as far as who you were as an individual, he said he practiced every day hard, always looking to perfect his craft. Most veterans at this high profile level, took days off. Larry did not. And he said his professionalism, the way he dressed, the way he interacted with people outside of the building, he always was thinking about his image that he projected.

When I look at the time and energy that one puts into their craft, all those individuals that you just mentioned outside of football, whether it is a doctor or a lawyer, somebody within a financial business, they have to put time into their craft. How do you find the balancing act when it comes to your day-to-day life with your kids and your family as well?

Well, I mean, first of all, I appreciate Tim saying that. I’ve always really admired him. And I’m getting a chance to meet his parents over the years. It was really easy to see the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with the structure and just how wonderful his folks were.

And Tim, all the things you mentioned about me, he was the same exact way in terms of his work ethic and his professionalism and his attention to detail. And I remember him always talking about being purpose driven in life. And that’s something I really respected about him. And I’m glad to be able to call him a friend and be able to play with him for the many years that we were able to. If everybody had his mindset and his ability, we would be a much stronger league in general.

But it’s always something that I saw and I just picked up as a child through different times. I remember watching Cris Carter do an interview after the game. And I would always see him dressed in a suit impeccably. And I remember wearing a jogger one day after interview when I was a rookie.

And Emmitt Smith pulled me to the side and told me, hey, look, Larry, the public only sees you when you’re playing on TV. And you always have a helmet on. When you’re off the field and you’re doing an interview, you should conduct it in a suit, look like a professional. And so people can see that you’re versatile and not just an athlete. You can do other things. You’re capable of it. And so make sure you’re dressing accordingly.

So just little tidbits like that would always really jump out to me in terms of how I would dress or carry myself in the environment. And it was always tough when you go into a public setting. Everybody knows your name, right?

The easy thing would be is to greet people. But I always try to remember their names and occupations or their wives and make a point of it to make sure that they’re important to me. There’s not just another person I’m just meeting as long as somebody line up– people that are coming up to me.

And so I was always trying to be very diligent in that. And that’s something I picked up from people that came before me.

Keeping on this train for just another second, when you think of core values and beliefs for you, if you had to name three to five, what would they be?

We always talk as a family about the faith, focus, and finish- something that we always talked about. Obviously, your faith is your foundation. You always have to be focused on the objective, focused on whatever it is that you are into or doing at the time and finishing what you started.

And it’s something that we went through. And it was another experience that I can go to. I remember my dad told me, look, Larry, you can either play on your eighth grade school team or you can play on your club team.

Like, I played before on both. But it was just really stressful for my parents, getting me from school to practice. And it was just a lot of logistics that were tough for them. So they made me make a decision.

And my school team is with the kids. I was with every day. I was close to. We had a great relationship. And my club team was much better. We were able to compete on a statewide level. We had a bunch of guys that played at the next level in college. And so my dad’s like, look, there’s pros and cons of both. But you got to make a decision.

I remember deciding to play on my school team because I got all the pressure from my classmates. And we didn’t have the year that I would have liked to have. We were just very average team.

I was like the most dominant player. But it wasn’t enough to carry us to a lot of wins often. And my club team was just like way better. I mean, it’s just the competition was much better. But I made the decision in like a few weeks in.

I was like, dad, I made the wrong decision. I want to drop off the school team. I talked to the club coach. He said I could still join the team. And there’ll be no problem. And my dad was like, no, that’s not what we do.

You started something, and you got to see it through the finish. And it’s something that I still do with my kids. Like, if you start something– I don’t care– you got to finish it. You put that on your plate, you got to finish it.

It’s just about setting a good tone. Not starting and not completing things is not acceptable. And so those are the three things, three words that I would say really resonate with me the most.

See it through.

Yeah, I got to see it through- the focus, family, and faith. Huge. I love that. When you take some of the life skills that you’ve actually learned from the game and how you now apply that to everyday life, what are some skills that you can now apply from your experience of being in the league for 17 years?

I mean, there’s a lot that I could take. But you’d be surprised by how many are not applicable to what you do on a daily basis. It was funny. Like if you were- as I always stress the athletes to really pay attention to what’s going on outside of you. Because I mean, it’s very easy to get consumed and just being great at your own profession.

But if I was going to lifetime and I was looking to get into marketing or real estate development or any other job that you would be interested in doing on your resume, and I asked you what experience do you have, and all you could write down is I’m really fast, I can jump really high, I can catch out long pigskin balls at high velocities, and I’m really quick laterally– I get it. All those the things are fabulous, you know? And we love that. But that’s not going to help our marketing department. I just–

[LAUGHTER]

Like some of the- you have to really step outside of what you’re doing in the game to develop some of those skills. And what it does teach you, though, is determination, drive, focus, like the intangibles, I would say.

The game does teach you that. Because it’s highly competitive. It’s always changing. You never know what the situation is.

You could be on top of your craft and not have a quarterback that can get you ball. There’s so many things that could happen and change the landscape. So it’s important to be able to have all those intangibles but also work on some of the things that you don’t get in the sport.

I would double down. In taking my personal experience, one of the things I would say that I learned from the game would definitely be the communication skills and then understanding the individuals around us. We have a common goal, regardless of race or whatever it may be, of how we can actually exist together- how do we now take this same vibe and the same feeling and relate it to the real world.

So can it happen? Yes, we’ve seen it happen in this space now when we go off this field, how we can now apply this everyday life. So communication skills and also how to love thy neighbor were some big things that I was able to take away from the game, for sure.

So switching gears for a second, we’ve talked a little bit about your philanthropy work. I know you’re also an investor. And that’s a passion for you as well- podcasting, doing it all that. But if you need to just relax and let off steam, what do you do to just take care of yourself?

I will say my favorite thing to do is play golf. I would say I play a lot. I enjoy it. Other is like physical activities like I like to play pickleball. I play two or three days a week.

So anything that’s like a workout, get me out of the house, and keep me active are things that I really enjoy to do when I’m just kicking back and relaxing.

Absolutely. Tell us a little bit too– I know– I read about travel being a passion of yours. You visited like a hundred countries or more, I think I read. What about travel is meaningful to you?

Well, travel is the one thing that you actually spend money on that actually makes you rich. The experiences that you have are nothing I’ve ever seen. I could walk- we don’t have enough time for me to walk you through so many I like all during experiences that I’ve had from going through Vietnam and staying in remote villages, sleeping on the floors of people, working in the fields and rice plantations. I mean, just listening to their experiences; the value, how much they valued your families; just the small intricate details that I was able to learn by traveling, it’s really enriched my life.

And so I think I’ve been to 108 countries. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do much traveling over the last two years with the pandemic. And when my kids are getting older, it’s just hard to sneak away for two weeks. You miss so much of their lives once you do it.

But I travel extensively from 20 years old to like 32, 33. I mean, I tell you, I globetrotter. That would be an understatement.

[LAUGHTER]

If you could go somewhere tomorrow, where would you go?

So that’s a tough question to ask because, am I going with my family? Or am I going with myself?

Well, let’s say you’re going with your family just because I’m a family– I have kiddos too.

See, that limits where we can go. Because my middle son Apollo, literally, when I tell you he doesn’t eat anything, it’s like Chick-fil-a–

[LAUGHTER]

OK.

Chipotle, Pizza Hut. So that’s cool at home. But if we were to go to like Africa on a safari, he might not eat for two or three days and so–

That would be tough, yes.

And so if I’m going with the family, we love to go down to Mexico. They love Cabo, the beaches, and pools and activities and everything that goes on down there. They really like that. So on the family trip, it’ll be Cabo.

OK, now, I want to know where you would go on your own, if you just had to pick one spot tomorrow.

Africa is my spot. I’ve been to continent of Africa probably 10, 11 times.

Wow.

And I just absolutely love it. I mean, I’ve been to 35 different countries in Africa. If I had to pick one place, I would say my peaceful place in the world is a place called Singita. It’s in Tanzania. And it’s spectacular.

I mean, just– Paul Tudor Jones owns it. He runs a huge fund out of New York. And he is big into land conservation and animal conservation. He bought just 600,000 acre land and put three different really, really amazing resorts on them. And it’s all about conservation. So he hires locals, guides, and chefs and entertainers.

And he really believes in building up the community. Like the rhino population has come back much stronger because of the things that he’s done to keep the poachers away. And he backs right up into the Serengeti. So it’s meshed into us and animals when Serengeti coming to his property. And it’s unbelievable, just to see the beauty.

I love that picture like just in the mind with that.

I had the visual comment when you were describing it. So it’s game time, I feel like, yeah?

We’re getting close. I do want to ask one more question because I did see recently Larry that- thinking about a global perspective that you have, and I recently saw that you did some work. Is it food– Footprint that you’re doing some and raising awareness about taking care of our planet?

So what’s your- what are your takes on that? I know it’s something we’re all talking about more. But where do you stand on that? And what difference do you want to make in that space?

Well, I mean, there’s a lot of people that, I guess, don’t believe in the narrative. I mean, our world is changing. And it’s not changing for the good in terms of how we treated it, how we abused it. There’s holes in the ozone. I mean, the plastics that we use are killing our Earth and killing our oceans.

And Footprint is about sustainability, eliminating plastics from our world. The materials that they make, they can be heated to over 100 degrees. And they can be put in your freezer and also is biodegradable in 190 days as well.

So I just really love what they stand for. They’re about keeping our children safe. Because the sacrifices that we’re going to make– a lot of us won’t live to see the sacrifices manifest themselves. But our kids and our grandchildren will be apreciative of the sacrifices that we made.

And so I think we need to be more aware of those things. And they’re a local company. And I’m big on supporting companies that are homegrown here in Arizona. Got a chance to meet their CEO Troy and Yoke and really get behind their mission.

That’s awesome. That’s a big mission for a lifetime too is making a positive impact on the planet as well. So, Larry, anything else that you would want to share or add before I let David take you through his two-minute drill that he does?

No, not thinking. I’m ready for it. I’m a good two-minute guy.

Alright.

It’s not the traditional one. But hey, we don’t have helmets and pads on. But still it’s hot seat time. All right, so I’m going to ask five questions. And ideally, we try to answer them all within a two-minute time frame.

You can go deep, though. I know you like to go deep. Alright, so here we go. What is the go-to for Larry Fitzgerald when it comes to mantras?

I wouldn’t say I have a mantra, so to speak, just treat people well, be honest, have integrity in decisions that you make, and of let those principles guide your life.

Nice, treat people well, I love that. OK, what book have you read that has made the strongest impact in your life?

If I can only pick one, I would say probably The Alchemist. I’m an optimistic person. And Alchemist is the most optimistic book that you’ve ever met- that you’ve ever read. And I’m just a big fan of Pablo Cohen and what he teaches in just about just being in touch with oneself. And I just really, really was moved by that book.

OK, alright, what’s your favorite childhood memory?

A lot of great childhood memories. But I would say like Christmas or Thanksgiving with the family, having all the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents all together watching football after Thanksgiving or watching the five basketball games on Christmas. And the fellowship and all of those are things that I really, really enjoy.

As you get older, the times all the family can get together, they start to join a little bit. Because as people get older, families start moving into different locations. And you’re just not able to get together like you were when you were younger. And so I think back on those times fondly.

All right, I know you said you’re a very optimistic person. So Idon’t know if this one’s going to land well. So pet peeve for Larry Fitzgerald, what would that be?

Messiness, I don’t like a lot of clutter. I borderline OCD. So it’s just I like things to be neaty that if we looked around my house, things are tidy. So my kids just like, dad, this piece is hard on us about keeping the room clean and keeping things not tidy, make sure they’re not out of order.

I would 100% agree there with- like at the beginning, for those who are listening and not seeing, like making the adjustment to the book that’s behind him. So I saw it, like, all right, yeah, he making sure everything’s on point. I like it. Alright, here goes last question. What do you want to leave as a stamp of impact in the year of 2022?

Ooh, man, well, I’m just leaning in happily with my foundation work. We’re doing some really cool projects for Microsoft to put technology labs in schools. And my goal is to be able to do 30 to 35 additional schools in Arizona over the next year. If I can do that, that would really be something I could really be proud of.

Awesome, that’s so great. Well, Larry, thank you for taking the time with us. I know listeners, they can find out more about you at your website, LarryFitzgerald.com, find you on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook. You’re on all of them. I think I’m following you on all of them now.

In LinkedIn.

In LinkedIn, just recently. That’s pretty recent, right?

Yes.

That’s–

That’s when I had to start adulting a little bit, you know?

[LAUGHTER]

We know you’re an adult when you have a LinkedIn–

LinkedIn, yeah.

–profile. So, Larry, thank you so much for–

Thank you.

–taking the time with us. We really appreciate it.

Thank you. You guys have a wonderful day.

You too.

Alright, bye.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

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