Throughout his decade in the NFL as a safety, Burgess Owens earned a reputation for toughness and hard hits. Now, the political hopeful wants to bring that same mentality to Washington, D.C. as he campaigns to become a member of Congress.
Owens has certainly caught the political world by storm in recent weeks. It already raised eyebrows that Owens was a Black man running as a Republican but his campaign in Utah’s Fourth Congressional District has gotten national attention as President Donald Trump has shown noticeable support for Owens candidacy on social media. A week ago, Owens made headlines for taking former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the league to task about protests for social justice during the national anthem.
It has certainly created some buzz ahead of Utah’s primary on June 30.
His experience in the NFL, where he spent seven years with the New York Jets and three years with the Oakland Raiders, has helped create a fire and passion that now translates to the campaign trail and helped to shape his outlook on the future of the country.
“In sports, the greatest thing about sports which is what is so disappointing in what I’m seeing now in the NFL and the NBA is that in sports, it is a meritocracy. Sports is at the cutting edge of bringing our country where we look at each other from inside- out and not outside-in,” Owens told SportsIllustrated.com’s ‘Jets Country.’
“Because the objective of sports is to win, you could care less their color, their religion, their height, their weight. That is the American way. And the NFL has been leading in bringing out the various diversity in this country.
“Sports plays a big part in how we see each other. Jackie Robinson was a pioneer. He broke down the barrier between blacks and whites. He gave blacks a hero – we can make it happen. Desegregation in baseball and the way he held himself and was respected – he gave black Americans something to look at and be proud of who I am. He gave white Americans a different view because they never realized blacks could be articulate and smart and respected and respectable. Those are the things with sport that it shows we truly are the same, that color has nothing to do with it.”
Thoughtful and pragmatic in his political views, Owens began his own march to conservatism during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, citing an attraction to both the family and economic values of the Republican party. His political revolution started then as the lifelong Democrat went across the aisle in his political views.He never imagined a life in politics or public service or certainly a run for Congress. But he’s taken steps in recent years and become increasingly visible as a conservative pundit, writing books and appearing on outlets such as Fox News Channel and political talk shows.
He’s done this while mentoring youth in Utah and trying to positively shape their future. A successful run to Congress, he says, will let him safeguard their future and allow him to impact legislation that could be broad-reaching in his furthering his advocacy.
His political journey is a gradual one.
In the early 1980s, Owens was done playing football. It was a tough time financially for him and his family. Renting an apartment in the basement of a home, he was sitting with his family and listening to the gunshots ringing outside his home. He didn’t like the direction of the country at the time or the lack of opportunity to better himself.
He went back in time and found his inspiration.
Growing up in Florida, he remembers a vibrant Black community. His father, a veteran of World War II, was proud of his military service. He was a college professor at Florida A&M. Owens’ mother, he recalls, was a brilliant woman who was passionate about being a high school teacher.
He cites their hard work and strong ethics in helping to shape his character. Forty years ago, he didn’t see those same values in the Democratic party. That’s when he aligned himself with Republicans and their conservative values.
In what has been a strange and unusual walk to enter the political arena, Owens says he owes a lot to the game of football in helping him prepare for the physical sport of politics. During his decade spent in the NFL, Owens was known as a tough and rugged safety, not afraid to stick his head down and sacrifice his body for the good of the team.
He’s used to taking hits. He understands the pressure and scrutiny of the media. But he’s more than athlete. Owens is an entrepreneur and a businessman who talks on the campaign trail about the pressures of raising a family, the importance of his faith and his concerns over the direction of the country.
It hasn’t been easy being a Black man running for Congress, let alone as a Republican. Four years ago, only eight percent of Black voters voted Republican in the presidential election.
As a former NFL star, Owens career stands in stark contrast with the players in today’s league who routinely make millions of dollars. The memories and lessons of those years playing football, however, have left a strong legacy than simply filling his bank account.
The time in an NFL locker room, among a diverse array of individuals from varying races, with different thoughts and faiths an indelible impact on a man who might be the next sports star to transition to Capitol Hill.
“All of the time I played in the NFL, we didn’t make a lot of money then but boy did we understand teamwork and culture. After seven years in the league, I got to the Raiders. It was a locker room similar to our country. A lot of people getting second chances,” Owens says with a laugh.
“It was a motley crew. It taught me a lot about America, about people. Too old, too rambunctious, too old. Al Davis, the owner, said ‘Come here, be part of our organization and be a part of our winning and you will always have a home.’ He said ‘Once a Raider, Always a Raider.’ It was so true. You had a group of guys, so unbelievably awesome. His biggest thing was his mantra. We went through adversity and Al Davis’ answer was simply ‘Just win baby.’ Don’t worry about all the stuff going on outside. Don’t make excuses. ‘Just win baby.’ And I’ll say, what I love about our country. We do the same thing – ‘Just win baby.’ And that’s what we do. Watching my kids grow up, watching my grandkids grow up, I want us to continue to do that.
“With the Raiders, there were no excuses. You didn’t want to let down the other guy. It was really ‘Just win baby.’ If the Democrats win back the House and the Senate and if Joe Biden wins the presidency, the slogan of America will be ‘Just whine baby’.”