Emmitt Smith discusses his move from field to boardroom
SI.com is taking a look at the lives of some of sports' most notable former players across the NBA, NFL and MLB. From weighing in on life in retirement to providing their analysis on today's crop of stars, these athletes share their thoughts.
The date was Oct. 5, 2003. I was in my fifth game as a member of the Arizona Cardinals after 13 years with the Dallas Cowboys. As I put on my jersey, pads and helmet in the visitors locker room at Texas Stadium something became apparent: It was time to retire.
That game sent all kinds of emotions through me. (I actually cried before the game in front of some of my Cardinals teammates.) They probably looked at me like I was crazy, but I couldn't stop crying for some reason. It seemed like it was 45 minutes of straight tears. I came to the realization that my time on the field was over.
After honoring my contract and playing through the 2004 season with the Cardinals, I retired from the NFL. I had a long career. I was respected in my sport. I won Super Bowls. I had achieved just about everything I wanted to as a football player.
By the late 1990's, I had started thinking about what I wanted to do after my playing days were over. I decided that I wanted to enter the business world.
Today, I'm the president and CEO of Emmitt Smith Enterprises, which is an umbrella to several business entities, including ESmith Legacy (a real estate development and asset management firm), EJ Smith Construction (a contractor and commercial construction manager that performs infrastructure work) and ESmith Realty Partners. These ventures are some of my greatest passions today.
The thing about the business world that appeals to me is that it gives me a chance to use my mind and brand in conjunction with one another. In business, you have a chance to have a long career if you do it the right way. Doing it the right way was the way I was raised. In football, that's also what I was taught: Integrity.
I also learned the importance of consistency on the field. I prided myself on being a performer every week. Business is similar, because if you perform for a client they will go out and speak to two or three people about your service. If you don't perform, then they talk to 10 people ... and not in a positive light. Consistency and teamwork allowed me the chance to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher, and I want to take the same approach in business.
I face a number of challenges in the business world. Some people don't take me seriously and assume I'm just a figurehead. I've heard a lot of terrible things. But I'm very serious about my businesses. Sometimes, people forget that they too started out small and new. I'm also relatively new to the business world, and it has been a tremendous learning curve. Everything about business -- from daily operation to corporate governance and everything in between -- can be very intimidating for a guy coming from the football world. But as an athlete I learned to achieve a level of humility that will allow me to continue to develop as a businessman.
In addition to my business pursuits, I also try my best to help others. I know I have that ability, and I know I can leverage who I am to benefit other people. I believe that is what I've been called to do.
Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities, which I work on with my wife, strives to help underprivileged kids create opportunities for themselves. I try to live by the philosophy, "To whom much is given much is required." I've been fortunate and blessed to do things that might seem not normal to others. I've had the opportunity to have a long, successful career in the NFL. The whole mission behind our charitable work is to create opportunities for others. Seeing the changes experienced by some of the young people that we're working with is truly one of the most gratifying experiences of my post-playing days.
Succeeding in my post-NFL life, in many ways, comes down to having the same mentality that I had while I was playing. I have that same fire and will to succeed, only now I have goals for my own family, business and for the people we're helping through our charity.
I want to be as successful off the field as I was on the field. One thing I've learned is that I should never put limits on myself. I want to say I lived a complete life, and that I gave life everything I could possibly give it. I want to be proud of everything I was able to accomplish ... and I think I'm well on my way.