One of the greatest aspects of playing in the NFL was the community. Being in a locker room filled with other high-achieving, high-performing individuals who know what it takes to reach the top, was something that I didn’t really have a true appreciation for until it was gone. 

When I ask former players what they miss the most about the game, there is one consistent thing that comes up over and over again, and that is the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the locker room. 

Going to work each day, playing a game, a game that I played since I was 12 years old, was a really special experience. I’ll never forget when I first retired at 29 years old. I called up my best friend from high school, a man that I played defensive line next to all those years ago, and shared the news that this was it, I was finally hanging ‘em up. After he congratulated me, we both laughed at the realization that I had just finished playing a game, one that we played together as kids. He has since become a successful trial lawyer in Las Vegas, with multiple businesses under his belt. He has experienced so much of life, all while I was still playing a game we shared as kids. It struck a chord deep within my soul, one of profound gratitude, that I was able to play a childhood game that I loved for so long. I sure do miss being that good at something… one of the best in the world. 

The game couldn’t last forever

I knew I couldn’t play the game I loved forever, it would eventually come to an end. I consider myself one of the lucky ones, walking away on my own terms. Deciding that my health and sanity were more important. 

There are a lot of things that wore me down while playing professional football. Beyond the obvious, like the physical toll it takes on your body, there are so many other factors that contributed to my decision to walk away: 

  • having to prove myself every time I stepped on the field (I lost my starting job five times in my career)
  • the performance anxiety and stress that comes with playing under a microscope
  • having to weigh 300+ lbs
  • constantly eating, lifting, practicing
  • the judgment by coaches, media, front office, and the fans
Joe Hawley former NFL professional athlete

The reality of being a professional athlete

Most people think that we show up on Sundays, play the game, and then chill the rest of the week. But playing in the NFL is a 24/7 job. The stress, the anxiety, the physical exhaustion, all wore me down over my 8-year career. All of that being said, the thing I continue to miss, like so many others, is the community of guys who know what it takes to reach the top. Nothing can replace what it felt like to be a part of that type of community. 

The one thing I wish I could take with me was the connection, the support, working towards a collective vision, challenging us to reach for our highest potential. 

Well, when I walked away, I felt the sting of not having the support from a community of like-minded guys who wanted to reach their highest potential outside of the game. I know that there are so many guys, like me, who know that they are capable of so much more, that athletics was just a chapter of their story, not the entire book. 

The Härt Collective is the solution for community during our lives beyond the game.

Now, there’s a place where we can come together, support each other, learn and grow on our journey to create a better vision of the future for ourselves, our families and our communities. That place is The Härt Collective.

If you feel called to join a community built exclusively for former male professional athletes, visit The Härt Collective website and apply today! 

The Härt Collective community for former retired male professional athletes
“Human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered "intrinsic" to human happiness and far outweigh "extrinsic" values such as beauty, money and status.”

― Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging