In this episode of Author Hour, I’m joined by NFL wide receiver Bennie Fowler, who played on the Broncos team that won Superbowl 50. Bennie joins me today to discuss his new book, Silver Spoon: The Imperfect Guide to Success. In this interview, Bennie talks about what inspired him to write this book and about overcoming adversity to achieve what we want out of life.
Although Silver Spoon includes stories from Bennie’s own life and those of other professional sports players and successful entrepreneurs, it’s designed as a practical guide and tool for self-actualization and achieving your goals, no matter what they might be.
Nikki Van Noy: Bennie, thank you so much for joining us on Author Hour today.
Bennie Fowler: Thanks, Nikki, for having me. I appreciate it.
Nikki Van Noy: Let’s talk a little bit about your history with the NFL. Tell me about your career as a football player, which I know is a big question.
Bennie Fowler: Yeah, I just finished up my sixth year in the NFL, going into my seventh. I want to play 10 years, but I started with Denver Broncos in 2014, and I played four great years there. In my first two seasons, we went 12 and four. Got a chance to play with a guy like Payton Manning, I actually caught his last pass in the Super Bowl, and then I finished two years after that after Payton left Denver, and then my last two years, I’ve played with the New York Giants. I got a chance to play with Eli Manning, and met a lot of great people, and played guys like Odell Beckham Barkley.
I’ve seen a lot of different types of people in my NFL career so far in terms of success, popularity on and off the field, and I play with some of the greatest so far.
Nikki Van Noy: That is amazing. Did you always envision this for yourself?
Bennie Fowler: I always thought I had the talent to be a professional athlete. I didn’t know if it was going to be football or basketball. Basketball was my first love growing up but I gained the love for football, especially when I went to Michigan State and the craft and the overall environment. Football is like a gladiator sport, so you know, I just have a great love for it now. I didn’t know whether it was going to be football or basketball, but I’m actually very happy that I chose football.
Nikki Van Noy: Was there a fork in the road where you had to very consciously make a decision between one or the other or was it kind of a more natural shift toward football?
Bennie Fowler: I think my mom made the decision for me actually.
Nikki Van Noy: Always the best way to make a decision.
Bennie Fowler: Yeah, I think she made the decision for me, she just saw my speed and the way I used it on the basketball court, and she said, “You should definitely lean towards football.” She actually made me go out for the football team in my junior year in high school. I didn’t play my first two years in high school, I did a little bit of little league and I stopped playing.
She encouraged me to go back out there in my junior year in high school and that’s where I just kind of leaned towards football. I got better scholarship offers for a football.
Nikki Van Noy: Have you thanked your mom recently for steering you in that direction?
Bennie Fowler: I thank her all the time. She comes to games and she’s been so supportive, not only her but my dad as well.
An Incredible Career
Nikki Van Noy: With such an incredible career, is there any moment or event that you’re most proud of?
Bennie Fowler: Yeah, it would have to be winning the Super Bowl and eventually finding out later that I caught Payton’s last pass ever thrown, that was a very big moment for me. Yeah, winning the Super Bowl, because I can’t achieve any higher team accolade in my career. You know, winning the Super Bowl, that’s what people play for, and I got the chance to win in my second year and I got to win it with a Hall of Fame quarterback.
I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, I was wondering about that as you were talking. This Super Bowl victory happened so early on in your career and like you were saying, you’re still playing, and you hope to have a 10-year career. What continues to drive you when you have a peak like that so early on?
Bennie Fowler: Well, winning another one. You know what that feels like, once you get that feeling, you want to experience that again, because you know how hard it was to get there and all the work that it took in to get there. But that’s what you play for, you play to win championships. That’s what drives me to still continue to play, as well as my love for the game. As I get older, you can’t go back in time and say, you know what? I’m going to take a year off.
I want to maximize my time in the NFL and continue to create relationships with all my teammates. Learning and becoming and developing as a man every single year, I love being able to do that in an NFL locker room.
Nikki Van Noy: Amazing. Your new book, Silver Spoon, is about this idea of finding it within ourselves to overcome fear and adversity so that we can achieve our ambitions. I’m curious if you drew this idea from your own life or if it was something that you’ve observed around you?
Bennie Fowler: Yeah, both. Going throughout my entire life in, everybody thinks that to get to the NFL, or the NBA, whatever it may be, you have to come from not good circumstances–those are the stories that are always told.
I come from a great background, I have both my parents in my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up and I didn’t have to worry about where my next meal was going to come from, but I still had the work ethic to go out there and get things.
Just because I come from a good background, doesn’t mean I didn’t have to go through adversity or fear or, things of that nature. But also, I have friends that come from different backgrounds who are in my book, like Dre Mont, or my friend Darques. You know, they come from different backgrounds, and they came from backgrounds that weren’t as good as mine.
We all have to face adversity and it’s more about who you surround yourself with to get where you want to go. Adversity is the same in the brain to any person, adversity or failure. The brain doesn’t know football, it knows failure, so that’s what it tries to protect you from. It doesn’t really matter where your background is from, you’re going to find these things throughout your life that you’re going to want to go after but you’re going to have to go through obstacles or hurdles and you’re going to have to climb mountains regardless of where you come from or your situation.
I want people to understand that and I want people to realize that they have the potential within them. This isn’t a self-help book, it’s a self-actualizing book.
Nikki Van Noy: I like that. Expand on that a little bit to me, tell me how you would define self-actualization and what it is that you hope readers take away from this?
Bennie Fowler: The book, it doesn’t offer a quick fix, this isn’t a flip this old house menu. But it does provide for you to do your self-expedition–you’re trying to find yourself throughout this book. I share stories that illustrate that no one’s road is easy. The imperfections of life spill into every part of our achievement. You realize in yourself; this is a self-reflection, you’re going to self-reflect where you are in life, realize where you are, write down your goals and dreams, and go after them.
It doesn’t matter where you are in life in terms of age or, failures, enjoy where you are right now. You’re going to continue to go to this book and reference it and see that I’m not any different than you, even though I might be in the NFL, I’m no different than you. We tie our shoes the same–you can achieve whatever you want to.
Nikki Van Noy: Was there anything specific that made you want to write this book right now at this point in your career and where you are in your life in general?
Bennie Fowler: Just the things that I’ve been able to achieve, such as, I went into high school state championships, I won two big team championships at Michigan State and then went in a Super Bowl, so I think I’ve been very blessed and fortunate enough to be around so much success, as well as the players that I’ve been around. I’ve been around guys like Kirk Cousins, Payton Manning, Odell Beckham, Le’Veon Bell, Draymond Green, all these successful guys that I’ve been around and that I can call friends and teammates.
I like to share the stories that I’ve learned from these people. I’ve learned a lot more. I don’t want people to read this and think that this is my story. This is a story that I’ve learned, these are the guys that I surrounded myself with and that I’ve learned from. I’m not afraid to learn from people that are younger or older than me.
Nikki Van Noy: That makes so much sense going with what you were talking about earlier which is that you’ve learned that who you surround yourself with makes such a big difference in terms of where you actually go.
Are there any people or is there a particular scenario that really stands out in your mind about when someone that you’ve looked up to or surrounded yourself with has somehow made a difference in your life and in helping you achieve your goals or keep moving forward?
Bennie Fowler: I’ll say it’s my brother. My brother’s younger than me, I’m the oldest in the family but, to see him go through adversity in his life early on–my brother had six different knee surgeries on the same knee before he graduated high school.
He was still able to make it to the college level and set records at central Michigan and assist points scored in a game and lead his team to a championship towards the end of his career. He became a captain and then played professionally overseas in Germany and Australia, as well as the NBA D league team.
How could I give up on any of my dreams or goals, seeing him go through all those surgeries before he even graduated high school and still continued to go after his goal of playing professionally? I can never give up on anything. Look how strong he is and look how strong he was from such a young age. So that is why I dedicated my book to him, and that is why he’s my hero for how strong he is. That is what inspired me.
Nikki Van Noy: That is amazing. When you look back, is there any one particular moment that stands out to you in terms of being critical where you felt the press of adversity or fear upon you and really had to push to get through that to the next level?
Bennie Fowler: Yeah, I mentioned it in the book, drop to pass against Notre Dame was my first time starting on ABC and in such a huge game and atmosphere at Michigan State. I ended up dropping the pass, which isn’t the end of the world, but that was the first time where I felt the pressure and all of that fear. That’s when the fear started to creep up in my mind a little bit and in my career, because my career had been smooth sailing up until that point.
But now I was the guy out and games are on TV, you are playing in front of 80,000 people. So, just learning how to deal with that and learning that fear is a part of your life and that you are going to have to overcome things. Life is not always going to be easy. That was the first time that I had to deal with something like that but I look at moments like that now and I appreciate them. It made me stronger and I didn’t give up. I appreciate moments like that now.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, you know as you were telling that story, one of the things that really struck me specifically about being a professional sports player is for most of us when we have those moments where something happens and we have to recover, we have a little bit of time or we have some privacy and space to do that, but it seems to me when I imagine that scenario and maybe I am not right about this but I would think it would be so intensified because this stuff happens in public and you have split seconds to recover from incidents like that and to keep moving forward.
Bennie Fowler: Yes, it is different. As you said, it’s public. People are right there–they can reach out to your social media. They can talk to you in any type of way. That was the first time that I had to deal with that type of adversity, and as I said before, in the brain, the brain doesn’t know “Oh, this is a football game,” it can’t compartmentalize that. The brain just knows me dropping that pass and me feeling that anxiety and that fear that is just a loss.
The brain is taking the loss, so now my brain is trying to protect me from that. Now that I understand these things, you know that is where you get into things like mindfulness or meditation or journaling, you help your mind understand that this is a part of life. You have to deal with this just like you would deal with anything else, but you have to stay strong and you have to learn things like positive self-talk.
I am getting into the brain and the mind right now as we are talking about this, but you know that is the first time I had to deal with adversity like that.
The Mind is Everything
Nikki Van Noy: So, that’s interesting to me. Talk to me about the impact that your brain and your mind have on your physical performance as a professional athlete?
Bennie Fowler: I think the mind is everything. I think everybody in the NFL is talented. Everybody, you know, it is less than 1%. The thing that separates people for how long they play and how they perform in situations in certain moments is the mind and how strong their mind is, how prepared they are. The mind and how prepared they are is what separates people. If you look at like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, these guys don’t necessarily have the strongest arms.
But they have the best minds and they have the strongest minds. Michael Jordan has a super strong mind. Kobe Bryant has a super strong mind. I feel like that’s what I am constantly working on is developing my mind and mental strength, which I have developed throughout my entire career. The reason why I am still in the NFL today is because of mental toughness because everybody in the NFL is physically talented.
Nikki Van Noy: And how do you do that? Do you have any practices that you integrate into your life for mental toughness?
Bennie Fowler: Oh yeah, every single day. It can be waking up early, especially in the offseason, but waking up around 7 AM, and meditation. You can do that for mental toughness, the practice of mindfulness, you can develop toughness throughout workouts and pushing yourself, but it is something that you have to develop every single day.
This is not just a one size fits all. Every single day you have to work on your mental toughness, and I think there are a whole bunch of different ways that you can work on it.
That is why I call my book “The Imperfect Guide to Success” because I don’t think there is just one way to get to the NFL or to be a CEO–that you have to go down this route, you can’t make any missteps, you know you have to stay consistent with your goals, but it is a part of development. Developing that mindset is a part of that.
Nikki Van Noy: This sounds like it comes back to what you were saying earlier about that differentiation between this being a book about self-actualizing rather than a self-help book.
Bennie Fowler: Yeah because you already have the tools. This book is going to help you realize that and embrace it and it is going to help you go for whatever you have in your mind. Whatever your goal is, in the chapter on goal setting it breaks it down–your long-term goal, and then you break it down into your short-term goals because success doesn’t happen in a day. It happens every day.
Nikki Van Noy: I like that. So, in this book like you were saying, it is not just about you. You have incorporated stories from other professional athletes, from successful entrepreneurs. I am curious about what themes you may have found as you compiled all of these stories that stand out to you in terms of what might be guiding principles that help people get through fear and adversity and keep them moving in the direction they want to go.
Bennie Fowler: I think the best thing that you could take from that for understanding in the book is how important it is for you to surround yourself with the right people. I have the right friends. I have people I can bounce ideas off of. I have people that I can vent to, so I am not holding in any of this anxiety or fear. Having my family is the most important thing.
You have to have a mastermind group of people that will help you get to where you want to go. You can’t achieve success or get anywhere successful by yourself. You are going to need the help of other people. So that would be a theme that people could take from this book is that if you are going to get somewhere in life, you are going to need the help of other people. People have to put their pride aside and ask for help–ask for a friend to lean on, talk to, ask for advice. I had mentors, so that is what I would say.
Nikki Van Noy: All right, speaking of mentors one of the things that I think is the coolest thing about you is that you hold an annual Bennie Fowler Youth Football Camp in Detroit. Talk to me about how that came to be and what you do there.
Bennie Fowler: I hold a football youth camp in the summer every summer. It is just a one-day camp. It is free for the kids though. We have about 100 to 150 kids signed up. That’s to give back to the community and a chance for these kids to hang around myself and my friends that are in the NFL or the NBA and to see that we are normal people just like them. We go out there, we have fun, we give back, and we share conversation.
It is also a chance for us to be around each other and for all of us to see each other. That is also where I am from and where I was born and raised. I just like to give back and I love being around other people and impacting the lives of others.
Nikki Van Noy: Those kids–I can’t even imagine how thrilling that must be for them.
Bennie Fowler: Yeah, they love it. They love it, they play games and we do races at the end. Some of them get a chance to race me, my mom raced me at the last camp, she loved it so.
Nikki Van Noy: That’s awesome. I love that. All right, so for listeners who decide to pick up this book, what do you hope that they really take out of this or are able to apply to their own lives?
Bennie Fowler: I hope they just take something out of each chapter, especially the chapters on discipline and goal setting, as well as leadership. There are just so many things that they can take and it is not just for athletes. I don’t want people to just think this book is for athletes because I have like you said, my friends who are entrepreneurs are in there. The reason why I had entrepreneurs in there is that being a professional athlete is less than 1% of the world.
So yes, you can learn something from me, but I also want to learn from people or my friends who have started their own businesses. You have to very confident in yourself and your product to start your own business as young as my friends did. I want people to learn from that. I want people to go for their dreams and their goals and jump and build their wings on the way down.
You know I heard that saying– when you are going for something just jump and build your wings on the way down. I want this book to inspire people to go after what they really want.
Nikki Van Noy: Wonderful. Bennie, thank you so much for joining us today. Let’s give listeners an idea about where they can find you.
Bennie Fowler: They can find me on social media, Instagram @beanzz16 as well as on Twitter, Beanzz is my nickname. I got that nickname in high school so they can find me on there as well as on LinkedIn, Bennie Fowler, Facebook as Bennie Fowler as well. I am very active on social media so they can find me there.
Nikki Van Noy: Excellent, thank you so much for joining us today Bennie.
Bennie Fowler: Yeah, thank you for having me, Nikki.