Once the rush of scoring touchdowns is over, what’s next?
That’s the question that Tennessee Titan Karim Barton is hoping to find an answer to.
When the 6-foot-3, 313 pound NFL lineman isn’t tackling opponents on the field, he is tackling opportunities head on and thinking about his next journey. He is living out his dream on a national playing field now, but knows that dream could end at any moment.
“The NFL is just a short period of my time,” Barton said. “You never know, it could be an injury or it could be a cut or you could get released. Anything could happen.”
So before his time is up, he is hitting the career field running. The 25-year-old is taking advantage of the NFL Players Association Externship program, which allows NFL players to gain experience outside of football through internships with various companies. He’s interned at Under Armour, Fanatics, Mattress Firm, he just spent the past three weeks on Capitol Hill. Going into his fourth season in the NFL, he wants to seize every opportunity.
“I’m just trying to find that one passion other than football. Because it’s what gets me up in the morning to go to work, to compete, and all that kind of stuff, but on the outside, I’m just taking advantage of this opportunity to find that one thing that I can say, ‘Yes that’s me 100%’ where I can get up and be passionate about it.”
Learning the ins and outs of politics, Barton has been shadowing Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, doing research on issues such as immigration, and attending meetings. Last week he attended Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress — which he called “eye opening,” sat in on the anti-doping hearing where Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps testified, and interacted with Clarke’s constituents at a town hall in Brooklyn, NY.
Raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Barton has also helped with research on a resolution to exonerate Jamaican civil rights activist Marcus Garvey. Congresswoman Clarke says he has adapted to the political environment “like a fish in water.”
“I think this level of exposure has been feeding something within in him in terms of being a humanitarian,” Clarke said. “He has the aptitude for diplomacy and he could be a diplomat one day.”
Barton says the experience has been overwhelming and of the externships he’s done so far, his time on the Hill resonates deep.
“It really hits home for me. I have family back home in Jamaica and for me to be exposed and to learn as much as I can that when I talk to them I can tell them, ‘You write this person or fill out this paper to get what you need,’ Barton said. “That’s all I want is to have an opportunity to help my family members to have an American Dream. It’s paramount to me.”
The externship program is in its fourth year and has become competitive, with 92 players submitting applications and 41 being accepted to intern across 15 different companies. Dior Ginyard, program coordinator of the NFLPA externship program says it gives players an opportunity to find other interests before they retire.
“The average career for most players is three years. The majority of players have to have second jobs, they’re not millionaires forever,” Ginyard said. “For some of them football is all they know and there are other things they’re passionate about outside football. They can hone the skills they already have or discover the ones they didn’t know they had. “
Though Barton is intrigued by political affairs, he’s not sure if it will be his career once he retires his cleats. He encourages other players to apply for the program and build connections.
“It’s never too late. Take advantage of these opportunities. They are there, the NFLPA provides them for you,” Barton said. “I was scared at first when I started at Under Armour but I put that aside and became open. Be open minded to new things and try new things. Get out of that mode of focusing on football 100%. In the off season take advantage of your time, get out there and network.”