EDITOR’S NOTE: Transcribed by podcast producer Daniel Baker.
Aaron Maybin was a first- round NFL draft pick out of Penn State University. Now at age 30, he is a teacher in Baltimore and the author of the book Art and Activism. He was a recent guest on The Nation’s Edge of Sports podcast and it was so great that we wanted to release more of the interview.
Dave Zirin: Can you talk about the journey from the NFL to being a Baltimore teacher and author by 30 years old?
Aaron Maybin: Even when I was playing, I started my foundation in 2009—and my foundation is an arts-based foundation. The aim was to supplement arts programs that were destroyed by budget cuts due to lack of funding. We would go into the schools that didn’t have an art curriculum or music curriculum. We would supplement it with our own. We did that for about the first year and a half. After that point in time, I realized that, even though I was young and I had just came into a whole lot of money, there was no way that I personally could finance, staff, and oversee as many schools as fell under that umbrella. It just left me really wondering where that space for me to do the best in my community was, knowing that I didn’t want to overextend myself, but I definitely wanted to have a sustained impact with specific groups of children that I could tell were passionate about art but just didn’t have either the resources or the outlets available to them to pursue the craft that they love. So I switched to more of the advocacy and public legislation side of it. I tried to work with a few grassroots organizations and local policy-makers to see some of those funds reallocated.
The position that I teach through in the school system now is as an independent contractor for an organization that basically does the exact same thing. We go into these schools that don’t have these arts and theater programs and tech programs and we supplement them with contractors that are well-known in their field and really want to make an impact in the lives of youths. So, going from playing in the NFL, you’re constantly inundated with different requests for your time, for your voice, for your attention, but my passion has always been for my hometown. It’s always been for the city that helped to raise me and the youth that are coming up in a lot of the same conditions that I did myself.
When I was released from the Cincinnati Bengals, I realized that I was in a position where I was either going to have to take a couple years and play that journeyman role. I might land on one or two teams during that time, trying to find the right home, and I was thinking about that whole process and I was thinking about the fact that my real passion was no longer in the game itself, it was in the work that I was doing outside of the game. I’ve always been one of those guys where I felt as if you weren’t truly passionate about what you’re doing, if your heart isn’t 110 percent in it, when you’re playing a violent sport like the one that I played, it doesn’t make sense to keep playing. And in a way, you’re kind of stealing because you have guys who would chop their left arm off for the opportunity to play this game professionally and I got to the point where it wasn’t as important to me as everybody wanted it to be. Regardless of how important everybody tries to make football, to me it’s always going to be a kid’s game.