As America’s most epic sport, football is understandably subject to infinite, cliché analogies. All of the following analogies are things I’ve heard come out of my own football coaches’ mouths over the years: Football is like rock and roll. Football is artificial adversity. Football players are modern-day gladiators. Hyperbole aside, such clichés exist for a reason. There is truth behind them. A football career can take many forms. The pressure to define one’s career by the superficial is real. As much as we fight to convince others of our own prowess and success, we are also convincing ourselves. Legitimizing our achievements and justifying our efforts can sometimes cloud our minds, preventing us from enjoying the game for what it is. A game.
What defines a successful career? That question will yield many answers. Some people will cite statistics and other tangible accolades. Some will say longevity. Others will argue for the level of competition. The point is that everyone’s truth is different. In an interview with professional Arena Football player Sean Brackett, we learn how the Ivy Leaguer’s football truth has been developed and cultivated over a career defined by passion.
After speaking with the quarterback, it became clear what his truth was. He loves football. Holding on to the game as tightly as he has, finding a way to keep playing, Sean Brackett is a football lifer. His attitude is refreshing to say the least, as he plays the game with a real sense of appreciation. The dual threat can be seen hurdling multiple defenders for touchdowns only to run into the arms of his teammates as soon as he lands.
Brackett played at Columbia University and has built an impressive career in Arena football. Staying true to his teammates, he has not treated these opportunities as stepping stones to a career in a more competitive league. He plays just to play.
Rafe: The Ivy League football experience is unique to the rest of college football in its inability to give athletic scholarships. However, it truly stands alone in its ability to offer a second-to-none education along with four years of football. What does that Columbia degree mean to you personally and how does it shape your identity as a football player?
Sean Brackett: Getting an Ivy League education is something that you really can’t appreciate until you graduate and enter the “real world.” The sales pitch is to set yourself up not only for four years but for the next forty with an Ivy League degree. I believe that is absolutely true. No matter the field or position, having that Columbia degree on the top of the resume is tremendously beneficial. Not only that, but the relationships and people you meet during your time at Columbia can be even more important.
Rafe: I know I don’t need to remind you, but you were the 77th ranked quarterback in the 2013 draft. Did this at all discourage you from staying with the game?
SB: Those rankings did not discourage me at all. If anything I used it as motivation. Being overlooked was nothing new for me. I don’t think I had any stars or anything getting recruited from a small town in CT. I used all of that as extra motivation and a chip on my shoulder to prove that I belong on the biggest stages with the best players in the world.
Rafe: At what point during your college career did the Arena Football would become your best shot at keeping football in your life? It’s well documented that Kurt Warner’s stint in the Arena League was essential to his eventual Hall of Fame career. Was it hard not to get ahead of yourself and compare your story to one as iconic as Warner’s?
SB: The AFL was not even on my radar until very late in my senior year, after the draft etc. I had some interest from NFL teams but ultimately did not get signed. Once that happened, my agent and I started to give the AFL and CFL a look. I think every player in the AFL looks at Kurt’s career success and compare themselves to it. Every player is just looking for an opportunity. Once you get that opportunity it is up to you to show your talent and play making ability.
Rafe: Would you say that you’ve treated Arena Football as a means to an end, ultimately trying to reach the NFL? Or would you say that your career is a product of your inherent love of the game?
SB: I’m definitely trying to reach the NFL. That is a dream I’ve had ever since I can remember. However, I have grown to love the arena game and at the end of the game football is football. I am very blessed to be able to make a career out of playing a kid’s game. It definitely helps that we throw the ball on basically every play, that is a QB’s dream. I just love the game of football. It has allowed for me to travel the country, the world, and foster friendships and relationships with so many great people.
Rafe: How has the quarterback position changed for you as you’ve built a career in such unique brand of football? Do you find it easier to make reads or execute the offense on a field with less players, in such a pass-happy league?
SB: At first the transition to the arena game was very difficult. There are less players but there is also much less space. As a QB, completing passes is all about creating space. There are some throws that are just physically impossible because of the angles and field dimensions. I think that these unique issues have made me a better quarterback overall. My decision making must be very quick as well as my throwing release. I believe my accuracy has improved as well since you have to fit the ball into tighter windows. When I have workouts with NFL/CFL teams I feel like I have all day to throw because I have become so accustomed to getting the ball out quickly.
Rafe: Playing in the Chinese Arena League must have been an experience you never expected to have. Being submersed in an unfamiliar culture, playing a very familiar game, how did you acclimate yourself to China? Was it harder to bond and form relationships with your Chinese teammates/opponents compared to other international players?
SB The CAFL was an amazing experience. Every American had a Chinese roommate. It was great seeing how we can overcome the language barrier and still socialize. The Americans came to realize that the Chinese players were extremely similar to ourselves –hard working, goal driven, eager to learn. We all became fast friends and had a great time spending time on and off the field.
Rafe: Do you currently work outside of football? If yes, how does your Arena career conflict with your professional career? Is it a hard balance to keep between training and working?
SB: I currently coach football at Buckingham Browne & Nichols school in Cambridge and teach PE in Waltham, MA. This is the first year I have been able to stay at home and work during the season. It was a challenge at first, but the same as playing football in the Ivy League, everything is time management. I can watch some film in between classes and drive to Worcester for workouts, meetings, and practice after school.
Rafe: What’s your plan once playing football is no longer an option?
SB: I’m going to be involved with football no matter what for the rest of my life. I have a good gig now with teaching and coaching in this area as well as my personal QB tutoring sessions. Football is a large part of who and what I am and will always have a large part in my life.
Rafe: Your partnership with Legion Vitamins and Supplements is well-advertised on your social media. Did you ever anticipate having such an opportunity?
SB: In the past I used social media just as a fun thing to connect to my family, friends, fans, etc. Being a professional athlete sometimes allows certain opportunities to arise. I had heard of Legion and had used some of their products, reached out to them to see if a partnership could be arranged. We have been working together now for several months. They have great products and supplements that I use so I am glad to share that with others. I am always looking for other products/companies that I use personally or believe in their mission to partner with. I would never partner with a company just for the sake of it.