Just weeks after Defensive Lineman Devon Still retired from the National Football League at 28 years old, he visited San Quentin State Prison to record an episode for his new podcast, Undefeated.
Undefeated features the stories of people who overcame huge obstacles.
Scheduled for the first season is Curtis “Wall Street” Carroll, whose TED talk received more than 2.8 million views.
“His TED talk caught my attention,” Still said. “I work with a lot of people who are trapped mentally. To see someone in prison so free—you can always find the good in any situation as long as you change how you think.”
Still proceeded to interview Carroll, digging into his upbringing on the streets of Oakland.
Carroll shared that his mother and grandmother were addicted to drugs, so no one held him accountable as he ran the streets. His peers praised him for committing crimes, and he eventually landed in prison. Once incarcerated, he took an interest in the stock market. He was motivated to learn to read in order to study the market. After making money on his first successful trade, he began to see himself as a financial wizard and so became one. His focus evolved to teaching financial empowerment and emotional literacy to others.
On Jan. 12, Still walked through the Lower Yard with Charlie Todd and Corey Pinkney—two friends of his from Wilmington, Del., where Still was raised, to visit Carroll’s class.
The day ended with Carroll interviewing both Still and Todd before 70 students at the Financial Literacy class. Pinkney, of House of Visionz, helped video-record the events.
Still commented, “To see this kind of turnout at Wall Street’s class—that’s motivating to me. That changes the way I look at life.”
When Still was interviewed, he spoke of the pivotal event in his life: A week after he and his wife were baptized, doctors diagnosed his daughter with cancer.
Still gained notoriety when he walked away from the Cincinnati Bengals to be by his 4-year-old daughter’s side. The distraught 6-foot-5 man cried in front of his teammates and on camera. He couldn’t focus on football and had to break away.
In sharing his pain, he created a movement not only about his daughter’s life but also for other kids fighting cancer. Showing his vulnerability created an atmosphere where people felt safe enough to share their traumatic experiences on his social media pages.
Selling his jersey raised more than $1 million, and the Bengals re-signed him, just so he could have medical insurance for his daughter.
Ultimately Still received an Espy award for his work for children with cancer.
He returned to the football field as a Houston Texan while his daughter’s cancer was in remission. Early in the season, he ripped a ligament in his foot, which required screws. While healing, he contemplated his next move.
Injuries had haunted Still his whole career. At Penn State, he blew out his knee. Doctors thought he wouldn’t make it back, but he did. As a Bengal, he dislocated his elbow. Once healed, he then blew out his back in a game against the Steelers. Next, he suffered from blood clots.
“Nothing was going right,” Still said. “I worked hard to get to that level but never got to enjoy it.”
After he healed from his fifth major injury, he decided to retire and use what he learned as an athlete to be a motivational speaker with his own business called Still in the Game.
“I grew up thinking football was the only way to make money, but I don’t have to beat my body up,” Still said. “If I didn’t go through the injuries, I would still want to play. But with the injuries, how could I beat up my body living my dream and take away from my kid’s dreams?”
Still spoke about how football prepared him to be a motivational speaker and help save his daughter.
”Basically … every lesson we learned in sports we can apply in life,” Still said. “That’s what I taught my daughter. She didn’t know how to beat cancer. Football was conditioning me to think a certain way. I conditioned my girl to think like an athlete, and it worked.”
His daughter is in her third year of remission. The experience has brought Still closer to God.
He went on to say that you must prepare your mind for the success you want so when your chance comes, you will be prepared to accept and make the most of that chance.
“Don’t make these permanent decisions because of temporary circumstances,” Still said. “I had to put in 13 years of work for no money to make it to the league. Players play until the clock hits zero.”
Later Todd told his story:
While a college football player, Todd showed out at his pro-day before scouts. That night he celebrated by drinking at clubs in Philadelphia. When he left the party, a car flipped over and smashed into him, breaking his leg. It took him a year to recover, but the injury ended his NFL dreams.
He realized he couldn’t rehab with a typical resistance band because of his injury. Todd, a personal fitness trainer, designed his own attached to a vest, and he mass markets it under Total Resistance.
“Once I found what my true calling would be, I didn’t care about football,” the CEO/co-owner said. “After that, I put the same energy into the fitness lifestyle. People can make millions of dollars by selling water bottles, by convincing you that their water bottle is better than your water bottle.”
Todd mentioned that he Googled San Quentin before arriving.
“What you see on TV clearly ain’t real to me now,” Todd said. “Now that I kind of see what’s going on, I knew it. I met people 10 times smarter than me; I’m feeling stupid. I just want to listen.”
Still valued himself over the money he made playing football.
“Trump has said he made $600 mill one year and to all his friends that wasn’t a lot of money and I’m risking my body for $2 mill,” Still said. “We risking our body and it’s their entertainment.
“I grew up thinking football was the only way to make money, but I don’t have to beat my body up. We think football is a career, but it’s an opportunity. What can I do to make sure I’m making this kind of money when football is over? It’s believing in yourself.”
Addressing his audience, he urged, “You have to train your mind to be outside these walls. If you don’t have a plan, you are going to be right back here.”