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Clayton Holmes Discusses The Power of No

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Every week, leading up to the NFL Draft, former Dallas Cowboys defensive back Clayton Holmes will write a series of exclusive columns for BC Magazine, as told to Blogcritics sportswriter James Dickson.

Of the thousands of players to pass through the NFL, very few have won three Super Bowl rings.

And I’m probably the only guy in history who’s pawned all three of his. By now my story — or my rise and fall, as some have termed it — has been well-documented, but it bears repeating. Jeff Pearlman’s recent ESPN.com story on my life and my struggle pretty much summed it up:

“Held the South Carolina state long jump record. Attended [North Greenville Junior College before transferring to] Carson-Newman. Spent four seasons as a reserve defensive back with America’s Team. Was signed and released by the Miami Dolphins within a span of six months. Five drug suspensions. Liked the strippers. Vanished.”


Did I make mistakes? Absolutely. Am I a work in progress? I believe that we all are. Can I help incoming rookies avoid the bad choices that cost me my wealth and my NFL career? That’s what I set out to do.

Despite the poor judgments I made regarding how I spent both my money and my time during my playing days, I was one of the lucky ones in terms of career success. Not only did I live the boyhood dream of playing for the Dallas Cowboys, but I won the “game of games” — and not just once, either, but three times. I played alongside some of the best players to ever grace the National Football League — not only the “triplets,” but also guys like Deion Sanders and Charles Haley, the latter holding the distinction of winning more Super Bowl rings as a player (5) than anyone in NFL history. I’ve been a part of a modern-day dynasty, and I’ll always have that in my heart.

And yet, what lingers most, even to this very day, are the what ifs.
What if I’d been able to stay in the National Football League for 10-12 years? What if I’d been around long enough to make a few Pro Bowls, become a household name, and land a broadcasting job after my playing days? What if I’d taken better care of my money?

What if?

And so, between now and the NFL Draft on April 26-27, I’ll be writing a series of columns detailing some of the lessons I learned the hard way, the lessons that gave birth to those what ifs that invade my thoughts. Hopefully you can all learn to avoid my mistakes. Experience might be a great teacher, but tuition is damn high.

Friends And Family Asking For Money

Recently-retired Warren Sapp once said that with each year you spend in the League, you have a new mouth to feed. I can attest to that.

Something strange happens when you sign that rookie contract. Suddenly you have more cousins than you ever knew existed. Every friend you’ve ever had seems to make their way back into your life — and this will only get worse in the Information Age, with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. When I came into the League in 1992, people at least had to look you up. Now all they need to do is type your name into a website, and there you are, for all the world to see.

And so I felt some pride swell up in me when people I’d known for years would call me up, offering congratulations for making it to the League — and, “oh, by the way, my transmission just dropped, could I get, say, $1,200 off you?” Or, “I’m opening a restaurant, maybe you could invest a few hundred thousand.” Or, “My kid needs braces.” Or, “my lights are getting turned off tomorrow.” Some of the stuff you hear is truly creative.

I’m not saying that helping people out drained me. But one of those what ifs that lingers is the thought of what my financial situation would look like if some of those $500 light bills or $1,000 car repairs that I paid had been sitting in an account, gaining interest for the last 15 years… I almost don’t want to think about the numbers, but I do want you to think about those numbers, because if you don’t they’ll haunt you forever. I’d so much rather you learn from my mistakes than from your own.

When people believe that they’re more likely to receive a No than a Yes, they’ll be less likely to test you. Your boundaries become firmer to the outside world and to yourself. You start to think of yourself as a discerning person and you start to think through your decisions. Your new, old friends will be slower to ask for money, and more appreciative with what help you do give rather than continually expecting more, and more, and more.

I’m not saying be cheap, or stingy, or distance yourself from people you’ve known your entire life. I’m not saying any of that. I’m not saying don’t help people out when you can. But that’s the key word, right there: when you can. Not because you can.

Take it from my experience — you don’t want to see that sour look on Pawn Shop Joe’s face when you go into his shop, hat-in-hand, hoping to pawn your Super Bowl rings for a few hundred dollars in cash that you need now, like today. That look where he wants to turn you down, but doesn’t, because he knows that you need the money more than the rings at that sad moment in your existence.

Such is the fate of the player who fails to harness the Power of No.

Clayton Holmes is a three-time Super Bowl winner with the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. Today he is a motivational speaker for parents and young athletes. Next week he will be writing about how to manage the attentions (and intentions) of female suitors — better known as groupies.

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About James David Dickson