Being an athlete is a core part of who I am. During my youth, I played everything - soccer, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, golf… by the time I reached Christian Brothers Academy, I settled in with soccer and basketball for all four years. I went on to play Division I Soccer at St. Joseph’s University (PA). Some of my best memories, from my childhood through to my mid-40s, are grounded in my athletic pursuits. Sports taught me the values of hard work, competition, teamwork, discipline, and fighting like hell to win. Playing sports brought me some of my best friends, most significant mentors, and the beautiful highs and lows that go along with any athletic career.
When I finished up at St. Joe’s, I was the co-director/co-owner of Upper Ninety Soccer Schools, and later served as a co-director of the GK1 Goalkeeper Club until 2016. In 1995, I signed my first professional contract with the North Jersey Imperials of the USISL - at the time the best professional league in the United States. When Major League Soccer launched after the 1996 World Cup, our team became the minor league affiliate of the First Division NY/NJ MetroStars and I was lucky enough to serve as the backup to Tim Howard, arguably the best goalkeeper ever in the United States.
In 1997, I was an assistant soccer coach at St. John's University (NY) - the NCAA Division I defending national champions - the best team in the country. Along with coaching, I was pursuing a master's degree in theology, focusing on pastoral theology and social ethics. By chance, I started to write a research paper for a Moral Theology course on the Nike corporation's labor practices. I found that if there were a company that violated everything that the largest Catholic university in the nation claimed to stand for, Nike was the perfect case study.
At the same time that I was writing this research paper, St. John’s started to negotiate a $3.5M endorsement deal with Nike. As part of the deal, I would have to wear and promote Nike products. I refused because of Nike's sweatshop abuses. I said that as a Catholic in good conscience, I could not be a walking advertisement for a company that was exploiting poor people around the world. I was told, "Wear Nike and drop this, or resign."
I held my ground. I resigned in protest, and became the first athlete in the world to say no to Nike because of their sweatshop abuses. This decision of conscience launched me on a decades-long odyssey that you can read more about here. If you want the 20-minute version from my award-winning documentary film, Behind the Swoosh, that I directed and produced, you can find it here.