Boxing, soccer among ways NFL players keeping busy
Jimmy Clausen and Tom Zbikowski both saw the NFL work stoppage
coming and were ready to fill the void in their schedule.
Clausen, the Panthers quarterback, went back to college, seeking
the 15 credits he needs to graduate.
Zbikowski, a safety for the Ravens, went back to boxing – yes,
Zbikowski is the first to laugh at his switch from one violent
sport to another, but he’s serious about this. He’s fought twice in
the last three weeks, in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.,J., and
won both. He’s already hooked up with the big-time promoters at Top
Rank and just last week Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward took
him on as a client.
He couldn’t have done any of it in a regular NFL offseason.
”I finished the last year of my contract and there’s a lockout
– what perfect timing for me,” said Zbikowski, a former Golden
Gloves fighter whose first pro bout was in 2006, while he was in
college. ”Not needing permission from the people that are paying
to play makes it possible. There is no way I could’ve passed up on
the opportunity. It just opened the door for my other career.”
Free time isn’t piling up quite yet for NFL players because
March is always part of their offseason. But since there’s no
telling when they will be back at work, and since only so many
hours can be spent at the gym, guys are finding all sorts of ways
to keep busy.
Some are delving into existing businesses, projects and
charities, such as Bills safety Jairus Byrd expanding a program to
recognize random acts of kindness.
Others are cultivating new interests and activities, such as
Steelers receiver Hines Ward taking a turn on ”Dancing With The
”Everyone has hobbies and things they like to do,” said
Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, who rekindled a childhood love for
soccer by getting a tryout with Sporting Kansas City of the MLS. He
did so well, they let him stick around for a reserve game on
Agents and marketing folks are encouraging players to stay
active – ”to remain relevant,” as described by publicist Tom
Savage, who works with Maximum Sports, the agency headed by Eugene
Parker. Byrd is among their clients, and he’s taken their advice by
building on the ”Louder Than Words” campaign he began last
The program is all about recognizing people for good deeds.
Volunteers in Buffalo are armed with ”Byrd Seed” such as free
movie tickets and are supposed to reward strangers seen going out
of their way to help others. All the movie tickets have been given
out, so Byrd is trying to drum up another sponsor; he’s hoping for
an ice cream parlor.
”Any time you’re not doing anything, you want to be
productive,” said Byrd, who has been posting more often on his
organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. ”We still don’t know
what’s going to happen with the lockout. It’s kind of like a soap
opera. You’re always concerned, wanting to keep up to date with
what’s going on. But you have to just go about your normal
The lockout began a little more than two weeks ago. Between
ongoing court cases and the chance for negotiations to resume,
there could be a new collective bargaining agreement before players
miss any paychecks.
However, with each passing day, it becomes more likely that they
will miss spring and summer gatherings, like voluntary and
mandatory workouts, organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamps.
Even the start of training camp is in question.
Some guys can’t wait.
Cowboys receiver Troy Bergeron and Browns receiver Rod Windsor
recently signed with Arena Football League teams. Neither was a
lock to make the NFL, and both are former winners of the AFL rookie
of the year award, so their decisions make sense.
So does Zbikowski’s return to the ring.
”Boxing is what I’ve been doing in my football offseason all my
life, since middle school,” he said. ”Some guys like playing
pickup games of basketball; this is what I do.”
After winning his debut bout in ’06, Zbikowski put pro boxing on
hold because football paid better. He was a third-round pick out of
Notre Dame in 2008, and has been a solid player for the Ravens the
last three seasons.
”It was starting to feel like an eternity to when I was going
to be able to fight again,” he said. ”The NFL is year-round. I
was young in my career and needed too much development to think I
could go to boxing for a few months and come back to
But now there’s no football – and, technically, no team since
he’s a restricted free agent. It was the opening he needed to get
back in the ring.
He won with a first-round TKO in Las Vegas earlier this month.
This past Saturday, he was on an undercard in Atlantic City, N.J.,
and won a decision over a guy who outweighed him by 20 pounds. He’s
tentatively scheduled to fight again in April, near Dallas.
”Most up-and-coming fighters have 10 fights a year, almost one
a month,” Zbikowski said. ”I’m just trying to squeeze that into a
AP Sports Writer Doug Tucker in Kansas City contributed.