By listening to God and through a lot of prayer, I knew it was the right decision to end my NFL career after this past season. For one, the NFL takes a great toll on your body. After 10 years in the league, this past year I found myself with more injuries than ever before and I wasn’t healing as easily as I had in the past.
I remember when I first entered the league, my dad asked me, “How long do you want your career to last?” I responded, “I want to play for 10 years, and anything after that is lagniappe” (a Louisiana word for “extra”).
Since leaving the league, I’ve had a lot more time to spend with the family. I haven’t had to worry about my schedule and routine for entering back into a new season, so while I am still working out and staying in shape, I don’t have so much pressure.
I get to take my kids to museums and movies and just spend more time with them at home. My 5-year-old has been loving more time with me, especially at night as I read and pray with her before bed, and then we have “girl talk.” She’s gotten into the habit of asking, “Dad, can we have girl talk?” Which I can never turn down, so we talk about all sorts of things — things that go on in a 5-year-old’s life.
It’s important to build up your children. My goal is to fill my kids with positivity so that whenever negative people come around them, they have no space to be affected because their cup is already full.
It’s also been so special to spend more time with my wife, Danielle. It’s no secret that the divorce rate of NFL athletes once they retire or finish playing is through the roof. I don’t want to be one of those statistics. That’s why it was so important to us while I was playing to spend intentional time praying and doing devotionals together, spending time together doing what matters most. You always want to be getting to know your spouse better and better so that when the time to retire from the game comes, you know who it is you’re married to and how to love them best.
So far the hardest part about not playing this year is figuring out what I should be doing each day. I have a lot more time on my hands than I’ve ever had. Now that I don’t have a schedule and routine mapped out for me, I have to figure out my own rhythm.
Whenever I find myself with extra time, I turn to God’s Word so I can invest in my personal growth and that of my family. I’m also enjoying reading other books, something I never had time for before. One of my friends and a former Bears’ player, Tommy Harris, recommended a book to me called “The Disciplines of the Spirit.” This book by Howard Thurman — which helped Tommy not only grieve the end of his football career, but also the death of his wife — has been really impactful for me.
Recently, my wife threw me a retirement party, for which people from all areas and times of my life came to celebrate the transition we are now going through. While I’m not naturally one to enjoy the spotlight, I was really blessed by this night. In my eyes, it wasn’t a night to celebrate my career, but it was a time for all of us to celebrate the journey we’ve been on together.
There I was surrounded by all my family members — aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, etc.; teammates and mentors from my high school, college and NFL years; as well as many others. For me it was a roadmap of all the people who had sacrificed both on and off the field to help me have the career and success I’ve had. I’m not a self-made man. None of us are. Everyone has help along their way — help orchestrated by God — and everyone who came that night was connected to my journey.
We watched a highlight video of my football career that night and it was really cool to look back and see all the things I have been able to do, many of which it would be easy for people to overlook. But to me, it meant a great deal. Just recently, I was setting up my man cave with jerseys and footballs I had been given over the years — footballs that awarded me “Player of the Game,” “Player of the Week” or “Most Touchdown Catches.” But the one I’m most proud of says, “Graduated from Tulane University.”
It’s not only the football stats and career achievements I look back on, it’s the entire journey — the process of reaching the goal I set out for and becoming the man of God He’s created me to be. I am looking forward to what God has for me in this next chapter of life, as I seek to follow His lead.
— Matt Forte, former NFL running back
The Increase, part of the Sports Spectrum Network, is a community of Christian pro athletes sharing their personal stories of the decrease of self and the increase of Christ (John 3:30). Visit TheIncrease.com for more stories and videos.