Football – and particularly the National Football League – has been in the news lately. Most of that recent news has been negative. For instance, in the last several months of this year, the following players have been in the news:
- Perhaps the highest profile example is Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was dropped by his team and suspended indefinitely by the NFL following the September release of elevator surveillance footage from February 2014 that showed Rice punch his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, knocking her unconscious in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He avoided trial on an assault charge in May when he was accepted into a diversionary program to address his domestic abuse. The NFL’s initial handling of the incident drew criticism from fans and in the media after Rice was originally given just a 2-game suspension by the league. (Rice has since appealed his case and has been reinstated in the National Football League.)
- In September, 2014, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was been indicted in Texas for “reckless or negligent injury” when he disciplined his four-year-old son with a tree branch. Peterson was deactivated by the Vikings pending the resolution of his legal issues. Peterson was previously arrested in an unrelated incident on July 7, 2012 for resisting arrest.
- Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested September 17, 2014 in Phoenix on charges of aggravated assault, criminal damage and preventing someone from calling 911, stemming from two alleged incidents in July. A woman later told police that Dwyer had sent her a photo of a knife and also described threatening text messages she had received from the running back. She ultimately left the state with her child.
- Greg Hardy, the Carolina Panthers defensive end earned a jury conviction in July for choking and threatening to kill his then-girlfriend, was deactivated by his team before a game against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 14 amid league-wide scrutiny about domestic violence. He had played the week before.
With that kind of news, it is refreshing to hear about a football player with a totally different story. We hear more than a few stories of someone growing up on a farm and eventually moving on to become a National Football League star, but there are not too many stories of a player going the other way on that path.
But Jason Brown is one of those who did just that! And his story is one of the best, one of the more unusual, and one of the most inspirational stories I have come across in quite a long time. Even if you are not a football fan, I hope you will agree. Here is his story.
Jason Brown is a native of Henderson, North Carolina and was a top high school recruit at Northern Vance High. He signed with the University of North Carolina and was a three-year starter at center. He was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 2004 and was taken during the fourth round of the 2005 National Football League draft by the Baltimore Ravens.
He started some at left guard for the Baltimore Ravens during his first two seasons and started every game at center during 2007 and 2008. His natural accolades awarded Brown a five-year contract and $37 million with the Saint Louis Rams, including a $20 million guarantee that he would be paid regardless of how long he played or did not play. He started every game in 2009 and 2010, and fourteen games during 2011 before being released in March 2012. Jason Brown was considered one of the best centers in the league at the time. He was only twenty-nine at the time and still had several years left for him to play. San Francisco, Carolina and Baltimore all contacted him about possibly joining their teams. It was evident that Brown achieved what most people dream of: fortune and popularity. Brown’s National Football League career was not really over unless he decided it was over. He decided that it was over and that it was time to honor what he termed his “covenant with God.”
So, Jason Brown simply walked away from the spotlight. Instead, he chose to pursue what he called “a life with purpose.” So what was Brown’s purpose? You probably will never guess it or even believe it, but Jason Brown’s life of purpose was farming! Jason Brown gave up his prestigious position in the National Football League to become a plain, old dirt farmer! (Excuse me, but my jaw just dropped!)
Jason Brown – a man who spent his National Football League career with his hands in the dirt plowing the way towards the end zone for his teammates – found a life of purpose in serving others. Instead of signing as a free agent to interested teams like the San Francisco 49ers, the Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens, this 6-feet-3 inches, 320-pound former offensive lineman bought a 1,030 acre farm in Louisburg, North Carolina consisting of a massive dairy barn, silo, fields, four large ponds, and a large white house gleaming with a fresh coat of paint. He gave his new land the name “First Fruits Farm” because the first fruits of each harvest were to be donated to groups that distributed food to the needy. After laboring all of 2013 to get the place in shape, Brown’s farm produced its first major harvest on a couple of smaller subplots within the 1,030 acres. “When I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service,” Brown has said.
Even though he reached the National Football League, earned a considerable amount of money and lived in a big house, Brown said that he has not felt more successful than he does now. “Not in man’s standards,” Brown said. “But in God’s eyes.”
“My agent, he told me, ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,’” Brown said shortly after he had made his decision. “And I looked right back at him and I said, ‘No, I am not.’”
Brown said he knew nothing about farming, but he learned by studying tutorial videos on Youtube and by talking to other farmers.
Even though Brown had no experience as a farmer, he had a vision and faith. His faith came to fruition when he gave away 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. Brown’s First Fruits Farm already had yielded 10,000 pounds of cucumbers, also given away. All 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes were donated to food pantries following his vision that the first fruits of his harvest would all go to feeding those who were in need.
“You look over a sweet potato field and you don’t see a crop,” Brown said. “The vines are kind of wilting. There is nothing there to pick. You’ve got to have faith.
“I went out to plow up the potatoes last week and looked behind the tractor. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite as beautiful as those big brown potatoes lying everywhere.”
The harvested sweet potato crop was helped by the Society of Saint Andrews. (Saint Andrew’s is a national group that links gleaners with farmers.) Rebecca Page, the coordinator of the gleaning group, had about two hundred people and thirteen trucks in the fields to harvest Brown’s crop. The group coordinates with shelters, food pantries and other distribution points. The group usually goes into fields after a harvest and gleans the crops that were missed, but Brown told Page that he wanted to give away the entire crop.
“What he is doing is unbelievable,” said Page. “The time, the effort, the work, the cost. And he gives it all away.”
Brown hopes to plant at least twice as many acres of sweet potatoes next year, and he envisions a harvest celebration. “A lot of churches have harvest celebrations this time of year, but they don’t harvest anything,” Brown said. “I can picture 500, 1,000 people here gleaning the fields until noon and then having a celebration of the harvest with food and music. It would be a great celebration and fellowship. I can envision things. I look out over this farm and see such a blessing. This has been more than I could have ever imagined. I have been blessed more than I blessed others. Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone.”
Jason Brown’s choice to leave the National Football League to pursue a life of purpose was the right choice even though his agent would not agree. I, for one, believe that he is doing more good now as a plain, old dirt farmer than he was as a star center for the Saint Louis Rams.
Everything I have read about Jason Brown has been pretty great. So I raise my glass and toast Jason Brown and the many other kind souls who put other people ahead of themselves.