By Rahsaan Thomas and
Brendon Ayanbadejo, a 2012 Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens, ventured into a prison for the first time, and no guards were around to protect him.
“When I got here, the single biggest thing I saw was all those classrooms, no guards, everybody walking with their books, you guys smiling,” Ayanbadejo said about his impression of seeing men going to self-help programs inside San Quentin State Prison. “It’s amazing you guys are doing what you’re doing.”
Ayanbadejo came as the guest speaker at a Freeman Capital Financial Literacy class taught by co-founder Curtis “Wall Street” Carroll, who is incarcerated.
Carroll preaches anyone can learn financial literacy.
“People think financial literacy is a skill set, but it isn’t. It’s management, and if you can manage time, you can manage money,” said Carroll.
Freeman Capital classes are held in an unassuming building, obscured by a baseball scoreboard, on the prison’s Lower Yard. Ayanbadejo and Carroll sat in front of more than three dozen inmates and several community supporters of the program to have a conversation about successfully managing life.
“Anything I can do to make a difference, I’m all in,” said Ayanbadejo. “I think there needs to be a reform because the U.S. has the highest prison population. You have countries with billions of people that don’t have so many people in prison. Why is that?”
Ayanbadejo told the class what it took to overcome his struggles, starting with growing up in the Chicago project without his father, who lived in Nigeria.
“My reality was trying to get home safe and play my sports,” said Ayanbadejo.
At 10 years old, his mother’s friend moved the family to Santa Cruz, which he describes as “going from gangbanging to granola.”
His path to the NFL didn’t start at a university, and he wasn’t drafted. His first three NFL teams cut him. He was 26 when he finally played as a Miami Dolphin. However, he excelled in the league, becoming a three-time pro bowler, playing for the Ravens from 2008-2013 and going to two Super Bowls.
“You have to dedicate yourself to your craft every day. I saw the people around me, and I was willing to outwork, out- study and have a better attitude than them,” said Ayanbadejo about his keys to success. “I wanted to be great.”
Ayanbadejo said greatness doesn’t last forever. He talked about how he planned for retirement by getting his master’s degree in business while still in the league. Then he invested in Orange-Theory Fitness franchise. He now owns 13 fitness centers.
“I think … JJ Watt said, ‘Being great is just a lease, but what’s next,’” said Ayanbadejo.
Prior to his presentation, Ayanbadejo called the inmates closer to him. He reached in his back pocket and pulled his 2012 Super Bowl ring out of a small gray satchel.
With widened eyes and huge smiles on, many San Francisco 49er fans forgot that the Baltimore Ravens beat them in Super Bowl XLVII and posed for photos with the champion and his ring.
“This ring just means that a goal was accomplishment. It’s not this ring; it’s what was achieved,” said Ayanbadejo. “You can take this away, and I’m still a Super Bowl champ.”
After the presentation, Mathew “Ed” Ward, 39, said he learned, “When you do good, good comes back to you. Stay committed and don’t get distracted.”
Andrew Boivin, 20, said, “I think it was very motivational. He had a lot of insight. We can all learn something from his perseverance and apply it to our success.”
According to Carroll, success breeds success, something he said he got from a person he calls his adopted father, Paul Blevins.
Blevins, a hedge fund manager, cited Carroll’s reason that money issues lead to crime as his motivation for supporting Freeman Capital.
“I think the financial literacy class is invaluable,” said Blevins. “It is allowing people to think about concepts they wouldn’t think about, and it’s preparing men for financial independence. Teaching them financial independence is going to help them avoid coming back to prison.”
Ayanbadejo added, “You guys have time right now to make a change. It’s never too late to make a change. It takes time to learn. You have to come to it. You have to start banging down doors. There are a lot of people to help you grow.”
Ayanbadejo was asked about hiring ex-felons.
“We’re a new company,” he said. “That’s something we’ll take a look at,” he added, “If you can get a fitness certification, it’s something you could come to our company with.”
By Rahsaan Thomas and