Over the years, Larry Fitzgerald was always a player to reach out to veterans across the league, to pick their brains about how they played the game in an effort to improve himself.
As the Cardinals’ wide receiver has gotten older, he’s understood that the work to improve – whether it was himself or other players – stretches beyond the game.
“Guys around the league reach out to me, and I try to help the best I can, answer any questions they might have,” Fitzgerald said Monday during the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. “It’s important to try and give a helping hand.
“I’m excited just with the development of the guys on my team. Christian Kirk, we signed Kevin White, guys I have talked to over the years. (Mentoring) gives me a sense of purpose, moreso than just running routes and catching footballs.”
Fitzgerald delivered that message to ownership Monday morning at the meeting’s outset, emphasizing to owners – and organizations – that getting involved and engaged in players’ lives can help players immensely.
During his talk to ownership, Fitzgerald acknowledged that as a young player, he had been “entitled,” “full of himself” and “at times, arrogant.” He contrasted that to the man who was named co-NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year (with Eli Manning) for the 2016 season.
“(Teams) can take a keen interest and seeing what their interests are, seeing how they can help,” Fitzgerald said during a later press conference. “Seeing if they can change the statistics, of guys when they are retired, in terms of having productive lives.”
He praised Cardinals president Michael Bidwill for both his advice and friendship over the years. All the owners have had success in various business areas that can help players post-football, Fitzgerald said.
It goes beyond business acumen, Fitzgerald added, noting that resources like counseling within teams is also available and important in helping players mature and grow as people.
The players also have to be proactive.
“I think it starts with the players wanting to be helped,” Fitzgerald said. “If you have a deficiency, if you have an interest, if you have a need, closed mouths don’t get fed. If you want to learn, you have to speak your mind. No one can read your mind. I think the owners and teams and people involved in the organizations are more than willing to help. You just have to ask.”
That isn’t always a given, because “pride and ego definitely gets in the way,” Fitzgerald acknowledged. Encouragement is crucial, whether it comes from fellow players like himself or within the organization.
“You can shape the outcomes of their lives,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s very valuable.”
Images from the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix