One of the organizations founded by Lowery was Kick with Nick for Cerebral Palsy. According to Lowery, “My Aunt Margaret, my father’s sister, had Cerebral Palsy. Yet, she got a college degree, became a very gifted professional writer, and was a university librarian at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Despite the fact that her brain was damaged in terms of making it easy for her to speak or walk, she overcame those things. All of us have something to overcome. That is such a great grounding thing for us narcissistic athletes, or at least athletes in a narcissistic culture. We have to realize that it is not just about us. As a teammate or as a human being, getting over our egos, even as we like to push ourselves and are measured by records and measured by our performance, seeing that daily heroism of a young person who has severe spasticity and teaches themselves to tie their own shoes, that is such a big victory. They stay positive. They stay full of love. I always thought that putting myself in that situation reminded me of how lucky I have it and how blessed I was to have mentors, people who encouraged me, and the players that I think tend to have longer careers get that, and they love giving back. Those lessons will always be important, whether you are 25 on the football field, or 95 in your rocking chair.”
Lowery also formed Adult Role Models for Youth, which is now called Youthfriends. “I was working in the Drug Abuse Policy Office in the off-season in 1998 for President Reagan, and that was the height of the Crips and the Bloods and the whole drug wars of the 80s. I noticed that what was true then, 25 years later, it is the same thing. All we seem to watch on television news are murders, rapes and negative things. Very rarely, except for maybe that last little heartwarming story at the end, do we hear good news. Nobody covers it and helps people figure out how they can be a part of solving the problem. That, to me, was so important. How do we make it easy for people to be citizens again, not in some sort of complex way, but saying, ‘Hey! I see a problem. I see a need. I would like to do something about it.’ It started with the United Way, and the NFL saying that the United Way and bringing the community together is part of our role. Commissioner Rozelle understood that. I think that we are a continuing generation of that. How can we use that spotlight to do good things. I love that. We can become, not as football players, but as people that can bring the spotlight where it needs to go.”
Another organization founded by Lowery was the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation, an organization dedicated to “helping disadvantaged youth, especially Native Americans, by developing, promoting and sponsoring programs and relationships that foster self-esteem, leadership qualities and skills, and encourage youth to be positive assets to their communities.”
As part of the Foundation, Lowery created a program called Champions Against Bullying. According to Lowery, “I am proud to say that Champions Against Bullying may be one of the next major programs of the NFL.” He continued, “I think that with what happened with Richie Incognito, I think that a Champions Against Bullying program would be really important. Eighteen years ago, I started what is called Native Vision with Clark Gaines. He just retired as the number two guy with the Players Association and was my teammate with the Jets. We were co-player reps for the Chiefs 1982 strike and have been friends ever since. That program was on Oprah in 1997, for Best New Program for Native youth and was honored by General Colin Powell on Oprah. We have a thousand kids from 40 to 50 tribes, with Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. It is a way that we teach sports and life skills, and we honor Native Americans. Every year, NBA and NFL players, Olympic Athletes, coaches from various sports come out to usually a Navajo reservation, but we have also done it in Wyoming and New Mexico. Every year, those kids know, for almost a generation that pro athletes are paid absolutely zero, just because they love these native kids just like their own and want to encourage them. To me, that is an unfinished chapter in American history. I give credit to Gene Upshaw and Clark Gaines for joining me in that every year, making that statement that Native youth are just as important as everyone else.”
Lowery continued, “I love the work I am doing now. We just launched a company called Triad Human Performance, which is dedicated to not only concussions and post-traumatic stress with soldiers, but using technologies that have helped soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Helping people keep their brains healthy so that they stay healthy in general. How we deal with stress, all of us, is really the seminal impact on our overall health as human beings.”
As if Lowery was not busy enough with his work, he added, “I am working with Gergen Labs with sleep apnea. You know what happened with Reggie White, who died in his sleep. His life was cut short at about the age of 45. I am doing some work in that area with sleep apnea. The amount of people that have sleep apnea and sleeping disorders is quite high. I am very excited. This Triad Human Performance Center, we believe, will help bring the two different cultures of brain health and physical health together. They are absolutely directly related. The technologies available today can definitely help soldiers coming back from war, can help kids take tests better, play better, can help soldiers not only in brain health but help NFL players and college players stay healthier in terms of the impact of those repeated collisions, so that we can begin to not eliminate concussions, but treat them much more effectively and diagnose them much more quickly, and have a proactive option for players so that they stay healthier. Parents today, rightfully, can be concerned. There has been about a twenty percent migration out of Pop Warner because people like Michael Wilbon, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Merril Hoge, Mark Schlereth, and many others are saying, ‘Why would you put your kids at seven to ten years old in that. Why not wait until high school?’ We think that we can help the game stay healthy, and make sure that parents feel confident that they are not risking anything. That they are going into it with everything to stay healthy so that they can play America’s best game and not worry that there are long-term consequences.”
Finally, Lowery mentioned, “I just did a documentary on our work with Native youth – our leadership work – which is what I studied at Harvard and what I did my fellowship on at Harvard. That documentary is called Hungry Minds. It was on PBS just two weeks ago in Arizona and it will be in Kansas City in the next few months. It is all about creativity and leadership in education.”
Currently, the NFL is considering moving the extra point attempt to the 25-yard line. Currently, the ball is placed on the two-yard line. When asked about this change, Lowery commented, “I find it interesting that we do call it football. I think that there is a reason why it is called football.” He continued, “When Peyton Manning throws for 51 touchdown passes, or Tom Brady for 50, or Dan Marino for 48, you don’t see them creating rules saying that the quarterbacks are having it too easy. But, when kickers do well, it always seems like there are new rules. The truth is, I think that I missed around five or six out of 568 extra points [actual statistics: 562/568 in extra points]. I think that I had the highest percentage ever when I left.” Lowery added, “The percentage is so high now.” The current conversion rate is 99.6-percent. “The percentage should be over 90-percent. That creates a little doubt. I am not sure of the exact statistic, but it seems like when there is a missed extra point, it always comes back to haunt the team, or the kicker, too, that missed it. I think that might be a good rule, because it is so automatic now that it is really almost an afterthought. So, I really do not have a problem with that. Percentages of extra points will still be over 90-percent, but every one or two games, there may be a missed extra point and that may create more drama, and that is not a bad thing.”
When asked if he thought that the Pro Football Hall of Fame was not paying enough attention to kickers, Lowery joked, “What do you think?” He continued, “I think that Jan was the first dominant kicker. I would like to think that I was the next dominant kicker.”
He continued, “Al Davis used to say that they really had to think about field position, because I was a threat from close to 60 yards. I think that Jan’s career percentage was 60-percent when he left the Chiefs [actual statistics: 64-percent] and he finished at about 67-percent [actual statistics: 66.8-percent]. I brought it up to 80-percent. I think that is significant and I think that it is a little unfair to compare me with [Adam] Vinatieri – who absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame – because his first year was my last year. We are 17 years difference. Just like to compare me with Stenerud, we were from different eras. I think that [selecting] one kicker every 15 years, or one every ten, is not a bad thing. I am not sure how many people are in the Hall of Fame now, it is over 250, and there is one kicker. Every other position has around eight to ten. I think that Morten Andersen and myself deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Now that Ray Guy is in there, hopefully some enlightenment will take place. I will give you a quick statistic on the impact of kickers: One in three games is decided during the regular season by special teams. That is now one in two, I believe, in the playoffs. When the margin is that much closer, who is the guy that makes the kick? Who is the guy who consistently hits the fourth quarter field goal with three-and-a-half minutes left, that nobody remembers because it was not the last second, but it was the one that gave you the edge and won the game? I would like to think that I was that type of kicker. I don’t know what I was, but I think that I was 38-for-40 for Marty in games that mattered. And Morten Andersen, in particular, he played most of his career indoors, but he had endurance and consistency and was clutch.” He concluded, “It would mean that by percentage, a much smaller percentage for our position than other positions, but I think that it would acknowledge that without kickers, certain teams would not make it into the playoffs and that without kickers, teams would not be as successful. The truly great kicker gives you that edge.”
Lowery summarized his goal: “Everything I do today is about helping young people develop and realize their ability to focus on the right things that matter. You can trace back to the kicker that is running on to the field. If he is in the Black Hole in Oakland in particular, or New England, or wherever, and he is hearing all sorts of obscenities hurled at him, and yet the kicker has to stay focused on the goal at hand: On that ball that is being placed down by his trusty holder, and the good snap by his snapper, and the great line that is protecting him, and the eleven very large people weighing 3,000 pounds paid two million dollars each to kill him twenty feet away. The kicker has to stay focused on the important things and in 1.25 seconds, be able to focus on that spinning ball, which stops for I think on average one-tenth of a second, before he kicks it through an 18-foot wide target. That lesson on how to focus applies to everything that we do in life.”
He gave an example of the power of focus: “The San Carlos Apache Reservation has a football team called the San Carlos Apache Braves. San Carlos Apache is the tribe of a man called Geronimo, one of the most – if not the most famous – of all Indian warriors. It is about an hour-and-a-half south of Phoenix. Mary Kim Titla, who had run for congress and before that had been a reporter for NBC, called me up. She does a lot of work with Native American youth. She said, ‘My son Bear,’ – who I had known since he was five – ‘He is now 13 and was quarterback of his team. They were 0-6 and had just lost 48-10 yesterday and had lost 38-0 last week and 28-0 the week before and they are just demoralized. Will you dive down and just give them a pep talk?’ So, I drove down to Superior, Arizona, which is about 20 minutes from the San Carlos Apache Reservation. All I said was, ‘How many of you have been told that you have ADD?’ Half of them raised their hands. I said, ‘Don’t ever, ever let that be an issue again. Don’t ever use that as an excuse, because you and I know that when you love doing something, you can bring all the attention that you want to it.’ They kind of nodded their heads. I said, ‘That is the difference between the guys who are physically faster, better, stronger athletes that never play a down in the NFL. We had a draft pick named Doc Luckie, who bench pressed 600 pounds, great athlete. He never played a down in the NFL. Nobody taught him the power of focus. You think that after you have been drafted into the NFL, it would be easy. It is all about focus. There are guys, every year that are better athletes that never make it in the NFL. There are also guys that are not as good that do. The separating thing is always the ability to focus, and the ability to maintain and sustain your focus. So, for the next two hours, you give me all of your passion and all of your focus, and watch the magic.’ In the first eleven plays, they scored three touchdowns, won the rest of their games. Three-and-a-half months later, Mary Kim called me and said, ‘Not only did they not lose another game in football, but most of the kids on that team also played for the San Carlos Apache basketball team. They just finished the season undefeated.’ That is why I have a real passion for this. It is not my power. It is their power. I am just reminding them that they have that power. It is such a beautiful thing to watch.”
Nick Lowery currently lives in Arizona.
Visit www.nickloweryfoundation.org for more information on the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation.
• New England Patriots (1978)
• Kansas City Chiefs (1980-93)
• New York Jets (1994-96)
• Elected to the Pro Bowl (1981, 1990, 1992)
• Led League in Field Goal Percentage (1985, 1990, 1992)
• Led League in Scoring (1990)
• Retired as Kansas City Chiefs’ All-Time Leading Scorer (1,466 points)
• Named the Byron “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year (1992)
• Elected to the Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame (2009)
Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.
Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen
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