Get up early and work late. You have to be willing to be the first one in and the last one out. No one will believe in your vision more than you will. You have to do more than just expected. Find areas in which you can get better and keep grinding.
I had the pleasure to interview Demario Davis. Demario is a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. A devoted family man, he lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife, Tamela, and four beautiful children. In 2018, Davis and his wife founded the nonprofit Devoted Dreamers Foundation to equip the next generation of leaders with the tools to be successful spiritually, mentally and physically. Passionate about sharing his faith on and off the field, Davis hopes his story helps motivates others to chase after their own dreams — no matter the challenges they face. He shares his inspirational life story in his new memoir, “The Unsuccessful Champion: Finding True Victory in the Midst of Adversity”.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Demario! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Igrew up as an only child to a single mom in Mississippi. My mom had me when she was 16 years old and I was raised by my grandmother until I was in the second grade. My early foundation was built by her — a woman of faith. Because of my grandmother, I always knew who God was and knew right from wrong, though in an urban environment, with a young, single mother, I often fell into the wrong things. In the second grade, I moved in with my mom in Brandon, Mississippi — where I spent the rest of my growing up years. I always loved football, which I began playing competitively in the fourth grade.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?
My whole family inspired me to play football. All the guys in my family played football to some degree, whether in high school or college. Ever since I can remember I was playing football in the backyard with my cousins. When I was in fourth grade, my uncle asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I said I wanted to go to the NFL to play football. I knew what I wanted, and I meant it.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My mom has always been the biggest encouragement to me. Without her, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Through all of the hardships, trials, and successes, she has been the one constant in my life. There were many times when she could have thrown in the towel when I gave her a hard time — getting in trouble, drunk, injured, or kicked out of school — but she never did. She was always there to remind me that I was better than my environment and my bad choices. With a single mom who worked three jobs, I never wondered if I would have a place to sleep or food to eat.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The funniest mistake I have made in my professional career was when I was playing against Peyton Manning during my second year in the league. Peyton is known for being very animated and calling a lot of audibles at the line of scrimmage. At the line, I saw him doing this and thought, “I’m going to play a mind game with him.” So I started mimicking his motions, pretending I knew the play he was calling. When I did, he looked me straight in the eyes and threw the ball over my head to the player behind me to complete the play. It was as if his eyes said, “Young kid, don’t even try.” I realized then that I had to pay respect when playing against a legend. I knew I needed to do a lot more preparation before I acted with confidence like that.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
My wife and I are philanthropists. Whether we are working on our own foundation or partnering with and supporting other nonprofits or organizations, we know there is a lot of good we can do for our communities. When we first began our foundation after I finished my rookie year in the league, we started doing as much research as we could, learning from established nonprofits and foundations whom we wanted to learn from and partner with. I knew I wanted to invest in the lives of the youth, and I knew I needed a lot of help. I reached out to foundations such as Athletes for Hope, the NFL PA, United Way, and several consulting agencies. Now in year seven with our foundation, Devoted Dreamers, we’re thriving more than ever, having learned the dos and don’ts of this area.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects new you are working on now?
The most exciting project I’m working on right now is our second year of the 7-on-7 portion of our foundation. This is the mentorship program we’ve made available for top athletes among the high schools in Mississippi. We take 30–35 football players from eighth to twelfth grade and pour into them in every way we can. We make sure they have all that they need to be successful in academics, athletes, and character. We teach them to be better young men, future husbands and fathers, positive influences in their communities, and followers of Christ. They also get to play football with the top players in the world. After our first year, 14 out of the 15 graduates have scholarships to play collegiately. We are impacting generations upon generations through this program.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example of what you mean?
Absolutely. There is a reward factor that comes with persistence. In order to get to the NFL, you need to have a certain level of persistence. The same is true in any area of life. Your business is not going to take off overnight, you have to have a vision, you have to be willing to do the work to build it, and you have to be persistent in your work. Don’t stop moving forward. There will be adversity, opposition, and things you don’t expect along the way, but you have to push through in order to see results.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Get up early and work late. You have to be willing to be the first one in and the last one out. No one will believe in your vision more than you will. You have to do more than just expected. Find areas in which you can get better and keep grinding.
2. Pay attention to the details. When you get to the elite level, you will realize success is in the details. Find those that your competitors are missing and win in those areas.
3. Never stop growing. Never assume you have arrived. It doesn’t matter what level you have reached, there are always skills you can develop and new information you can gather to take you to the next level.
4. Never forsake enthusiasm and passion. There’s something about passionate, electric people that breeds success. If your dream doesn’t wake you up out of bed without your alarm, you shouldn’t be pursuing it. Get just enough sleep so you can be rested enough to go at it again the next day. This kind of energy is contagious, making people want to be a part of what you’re doing. Your passion is palpable.
5. Have the mentality to be the best. If you’re going to do it, put all your energy into it — this is what drives elite athletes. Second place isn’t an option. Work to be in the first place and then work to remain there. If you want to make an impact, why not make the biggest impact possible? Put your stamp of approval on your work and work in such a way that your brand is the best in its category.
What would you advise a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
I would tell young people who want to emulate me to not just copy me, but become better than I am. Take the things I’ve done well and duplicate those. Find areas where I went wrong and don’t do that. Improve my work. Take my errors and learn from them; turn them into wise and positive choices. If you copy what is good and correct my mistakes, you’ll be better than me. I love the quote by Tupac Shakur that says, “I’m not saying I’m gonna rule the world or I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee you that I will spark the brain that will change the world.” If I fall short, someone may take my ceiling and make it their floor.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It’s our mission to bring good to the world. In Matthew 28:19, the Bible says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to make more Demario’s in the world, I want more Christ-followers. My family and I try to take all the resources we have — time, energy, our platform, the Gospel, etc… — and steward them in a way that helps others. With everything, we do we want to bring glory to God and turn people toward Him. All of our success — the notoriety and the resources — are all part of the platform so people can see Christ. I hope others see God in me and nothing else.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In short: Love. If we can get to the place where all people go back to worshipping God, their Creator, instead of creation and the things of this world, we would see change. The other piece of it is loving others. If we have a love for other people that shows itself in the ways we care for them and our willingness to give of ourselves for the benefit of others, the world will change drastically for good. We wouldn’t have to worry about poverty, crime, or cruelty because we would be thinking selflessly instead of selfishly.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Right now, my favorite quote is by Dr. Martin Luther King who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We need to understand that we cannot respond to evil with evil or else we will always be stuck in the same place. If you fight fire with fire, you will be burned. But if we replace darkness with light, immorality with morality, wrong with right, we will create change. In a world that teaches the opposite, we have to be the light.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
The person I would most like to sit down and talk with would be Warren Buffett. I’m amazed by this man’s brain and the way he can think in terms of numbers. For him to have gained the amount of wealth he’s gained is no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to him, but you can tell he’s not all about his wealth. If I was able to, I’d love to just sit with him, listening and learning from his wisdom.