Can you tell us about some of the influences that led you to pursue a master’s degree in hospitality?
I have a passion for entertaining, being with other people and enjoying experiences together. I was thinking about all the teammates I’ve had throughout the years and how we used to get together for social Thursdays. I enjoyed hosting events for my teammates so on social Thursdays, my teammates would have to bring over a dish. The type of food didn’t matter as long as it was something they enjoyed and I’d cook it. I’m from the south and I love food. When I was a kid my mother taught me how to get around the kitchen. I enjoy the art of preparing and serving food and how enjoying a well prepared meal makes people feel. In my opinion I think taste brings out the beauty of the food, I want to create the best dish I can every time I’m preparing food. When it came to pursuing a master’s degree I knew that it would help me fulfil my dream and hopefully by continuing my education I can help others makes the right choices.
Now that you have established a second career outside of football, which skills from the field do you think translated best to your profession after football?
The thing that separates the greats from the good players is work ethic. You have to have this mindset that every day you are going to do something for yourself that is going to make you a better football player. While I was still playing for the Jets, there was a teammate of mine that I looked up to. He helped me become a better player and teammate, but he also gave me some advice that I’ll never forget. He said, “If you want to last double digit years in this league, you have to work on your game everyday—mind, body, and soul.” That advice has always stuck with me and to this day, it’s how I live my life. I had to ask myself how can I work on my passion every day and inspire others. I realized that if I wanted this to work I have to be willing to work hard every day. I have to take care of my responsibilities, and take account for my actions.
What lessons and skills are you hoping to pick up during your job shadow at the League office?
When I found out I’d be able to shadow Chef Mark for the day, I knew I wanted to learn about the everyday operations. I had an understanding, but I wanted confirmation of my calling. What I’ve learned today, I will be able to take home with me and hopefully use this opportunity to empower others. There are always going to be opportunities to learn more about your craft. I knew I could soak up some wisdom from Chef Marc, like how to maximize profit and minimize loss. Chef Marc stressed the importance of putting together a team whether you’re in the kitchen or on the field. You can’t do it by yourself. A chef can’t prepare all the meals by himself, just like a player can’t win a game if he’s the only one on his side of the field. I want people to feel good about the food I’m preparing, from the presentation to the way it tastes. I’m doing it with love so I know it’s going to taste good.
After all the success you’ve had on the field, what are some goals you are hoping to reach off of it?
I was very fortunate to play 12 years in the League and winning the Super Bowl is the pinnacle, that’s the ultimate goal. Now that my playing days are behind me, I had to ask myself how can I take that same feeling I had when we won the Super Bowl and transfer it to this second career. I wanted to figure out what I could do to reach the pinnacle, win the Super Bowl in the next chapter of my life. I realized that I could take the things I’ve learned throughout my life and use it to inspire kids. I want to put together a place where kids have a chance to better themselves. I try to tap into all the programs and benefits the NFL has open to me. This experience opens up many doors and helps me reach that goal. I want to help young men and women be sustainable and job ready. I believe that with hard work and passion anything is within your grasp. If you put the work in you’ll be in the right position.
Can you tell us the story behind the Fred Baxter Foundation? How has your program been able to positively affect the communities it’s active in?
I started the foundation in 2000 when I knew I’d need to branch out to other venues outside of football. I knew I could share my experiences with others so we worked with churches, Boys and Girls Clubs, and YMCAs to create opportunities for the kids to learn how to be sustainable. I wanted to empower my family and others and by doing so, I want to inspire other men to raise the quality of their family’s lives as well. The Fred Baxter Foundation works to create a safe haven that give the youth a better quality of life. I knew I had a voice that could connect us with the right people and so we had to use it. I know our goals are possible because I’m here and I’m going to keep working, you can see the progress before it even happens if you do things the right way. I’m advocating for those who are willing to work hard to make a change. I want to show others that they can make a change and significant difference just like I am.