ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Offensive lineman John Moffitt played pro football for the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. Those are the teams playing in this Sunday's Super Bowl. In fact, Moffitt was on Denver's roster this year until he decided to walk away mid season. Unhappy with football, the 27-year-old turned his back on more than a million dollars in salary.
NPR's Mike Pesca talked to John Moffitt and to his former teammates about his decision to leave the game.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: The phrase not supposed to usually found its way somewhere between the words football and John Moffitt. Without much natural skill, he was not supposed to be drafted in the third round. As such, Moffitt was not supposed to become a starter for the Seahawks and an obscure offensive lineman isn't supposed to be the breakout star of a series of videos his teammate Michael Robinson posted on YouTube called the "Real Rob Report."
But John Moffitt's engaging and funny as can be seen when he gave teammate Golden Tate naming advice.
JOHN MOFFITT: I told him that he should name his son Silver so his son always knows he won't be as good as him. You know what I mean? Just to put that line across. So his son's Silver. The next son is Bronze. And you go from there. Wood, Wooden Tate, Plastic Tate.
PESCA: At points in these videos, Moffitt discussed the "Twilight" series, engaged in an investigation answering the question is Seahawk's quarterback Russell Wilson a robot and was once even caught meditating, which led to a discussion with defensive back Richard Sherman about Buddhism. John Moffitt clearly contained multitudes.
But after he suffered some injuries, the Seahawks tried to trade Moffitt. He eventually wound up in Denver. Even though the team was setting offensive records, he just found himself disillusioned, worried about his long-term health, wondering who was the person he was becoming and thinking...
MOFFITT: I want to leave on my own terms. I'm unhappy. I want to change, like, instantly. I got to change right now.
PESCA: So he quit. He told the Seattle-based podcast TBTL that his move puzzled even some members of his family like his cousin Andrea, who texted...
MOFFITT: Like, how dare you? Like, I work so hard for my job and I don't get paid, like, nearly as much as you and to take that for granted and blah, blah, blah, and like, just read me the riot act, like, over a text message. And I'm kind of - and then after, I just responded with, like, Andrea, I'm not happy and I'm sorry that that's your, you know, where you're at, but I'm - this is where I'm at.
PESCA: Cousin Andrea eventually came around. Moffitt's teammates, at least the teammates he was close to, were instantly supportive. Yesterday, Seahawks Max Unger and Breno Giacomini both said they respected their friend's decision to leave the game. They, like Bronco's lineman Zane Beadles, had nothing but kind things to say about Moffitt.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: John was a great teammate, brought a lot of fun to the room and has a different outlook on life and, you know, it's a refreshing thing.
PESCA: Moffitt did originally say fears of brain injury played a role in his decision, but since he's quit, he's looked into the issue and now finds the risk of long-term brain trauma far scarier than he ever did as a player. In fact, Moffitt is hosting a podcast with the director of "The United States of Football," a documentary about brain injuries in the NFL.
Moffitt wants to be clear. He doesn't hate football. He'll be watching his former teams this Sunday and he says he misses the feeling of exhaustion after working hard and just the sensation of contact.
MOFFITT: You don't want to always, like, just say to people because you hope they take it the right way, but it's like, you, to a little bit of extent, miss some, like, physical violence because it's been a part of your life for so long. You know what I mean? Like, I, to an extent, miss, like, just exerting all of my energy onto another person.
PESCA: Moffitt says he wants to write a graphic novel about his journey out of football and he recently tried standup comedy, which went pretty well. He's been much happier since he left the game, saying his decision seems to have cured what ailed him. Most people don't like change, Moffitt says, but I think it's one of the best things in life. Mike Pesca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.