The Artists of The NFL

Highlighting how extraordinarily talented human beings can be, a look at three unexpected artists that have emerged from the National Football League… 

Regardless of how one pay the bills, many of us have an artistic talent or interest deep inside. Yet, having the drive to create isn’t a one-way ticket to happiness or success. Even the most dedicated artists face trials related to promoting and profiting from their creations. In fact, some artists only find their footing later in life after leaving a promising career and finding extra free time. Some of these later pursuits have shocked the public, such as the paintings created in former President George W. Bush’s bathtub or the Grammy-nominated album from retired boxer Oscar de la Hoya.

It tickles the artist in all of us to see professionals from various walks of life let their creativity shine. It gives us hope that our own pursuits may someday pan out and serves as a reminder that meaningful art can come from just about anywhere…or anyone.

For example, today’s professional athletes are more likely to be portrayed in an NFT than they are to create a piece themselves. However, there have been more than a handful of standout artists who were once pro athletes. This is especially poignant in the NFL, as it’s a gritty, contact-heavy league.

Though they exist, these players-turned-artists don’t come around too often. Top players are too focused on meeting daily expectations set by their franchise and the public. In short, there’s little time for art — especially for the league’s upper echelon of players. Though many would love to see a painting or poem from the players with the shortest regular season MVP betting odds, top competitors like Josh Allen and Kyler Murray are too busy smashing last season’s stats and calling audibles to sit down with a palette of oil paints…at least for now.

Some of the most successful creative projects have come from the league’s most formidable athletes post retirement. And while there have been more failures than successes, the NFL has contributed to great works in a variety of disciplines. Here are three talented artists who emerged from the NFL.

Ernie Barnes: Guard / Painter

Ernie Barnes is one of the few former NFL players who’s remembered more for his contributions to art than to football. Early on in his career as a guard, Barnes faced challenges finding a place on an NFL roster and moved teams often. He was once even fined by his coach for the Denver Broncos for sketching during team meetings. Unsurprisingly, Barnes went on to become a prolific painter. He’s known for his depiction of elongated figures and has helped draw attention from celebrities like Kanye West and the former mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley.

Nate Jackson: Wide Receiver / Best-Selling Author

Similar to Barnes, wide receiver Nate Jackson (who also played for the Denver Broncos) found more success in his artistic career post-NFL than he did on the gridiron. After a troubled career in the league that lasted from 2002-2008, the undrafted free agent retired. Five years later, Jackson released a book called Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile. Despite his limited career in the NFL (or perhaps because of it), Jackson’s work became wildly popular for football fans, as it highlighted the unique challenges and informal details of life on an NFL roster.

Mike Reid: Defensive Lineman / Country Singer

Mike Reid was always meant to be a football player. Like all the greats, he had an illustrious college career. What started with the Nittany Lions of Pennsylvania State University led to a five-year stint with the Cincinnati Bengals that ended in 1974. Rather than look for another position in the NFL or move on to another football-related job, Reid devoted himself to country music. As a long-time fan of the genre, Reid now had the time and resources to devote himself to songwriting.

Though Reid didn’t always perform live himself, he worked tirelessly behind the scenes with prominent artists to craft songs that many recognize today. For example, he co-wrote Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger in My House”, which won a Grammy in 1984. He also wrote and performed “Walk on Faith” under his own name, which peaked as the Billboard number one song in their country genre.

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