At the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron was not really talked about. In fact, when scouts mentioned his name, it was probably to discuss his slow 5.38 second 40-yard dash recorded at his Pro Day and his strained hamstring. Cameron, who played football at Hofstra before transferring and finishing out his college career at Old Dominion, failed to provide enough interest for any NFL team to draft him. But the Chicago Bears took a chance and signed Cameron as an undrafted free agent. In August 2012, he was waived. Cameron’s next shot was with the Cleveland Browns. His stay in Cleveland did not last long, and most recently, he was signed by the Eagles. And while Cameron is certainly not guaranteed a long career in the NFL, he is focusing on the positives for now. Not just for himself, but for others. He has taken the proper steps to provide him the liberty to do so.
While his teammates and competitors were staying up late, partying in nightclubs and “taking advantage” of the social aspects of college life, Cameron was lifting weights. He was in class, at football practice, working on campus and staying up until 1-2 a.m. only to wake up again at 5 a.m. to start the process all over again. In four-and-a-half years, Cameron graduated with not only his undergrad degree, but also an MBA, making him the only football player eligible for last year’s NFL Draft with both diplomas.
Cameron’s story is an unfamiliar one in a profession that is riddled with debt. The statistic that is referenced ad nauseam is that 78% of all NFL players are divorced, bankrupt or unemployed two years after leaving the game.
Yet, Cameron has no regrets about giving up a lot of his social life to make sure his school and football life was where he wanted it to be. ”Maybe I could have made some more memories in college, but at the end of the day I made the most out of my time in college and I can be an inspiration to other kids who just want to get their degree,” said Cameron in an interview with Forbes.com. ”An MBA showed teams that I had the ability to work hard and do something above and beyond what most people do. It works for me on and off the field. If you work hard in the classroom, it makes it so much easier to work hard on the field. It becomes habit. It becomes something you actually enjoy.”
The words of wisdom delivered by Cameron should be read by every high school, college and professional athlete. However, Cameron’s value to the world does not start and stop with serving as a shining example of how an athlete can be successful on and off the field. Cameron has larger aspirations.
This past season when Cameron was a member of the Cleveland Browns, he decided that he was going to watch a Presidential debate. Cameron was not an English or Journalism major, but he was a Twitter user, and decided to fire off some Tweets during the debate. All of a sudden, he was contacted to begin writing for the Huffington Post on politics and education advocacy. Simultaneously, Cameron was performing a lot of volunteer work with the Browns and decided that he was going to create his own news network.
The network is Bonfire Impact, a website for activism, awareness and good works, which highlights positive news, charity work and green initiatives. ”I wanted to give the world a positive outlook on things so that when you go to a website you can feel good about yourself and the world you live in,” said Cameron. The site launched roughly four months ago and is averaging a few hundred visitors per day. ”We aggregate content from non-profit organizations and we have original content of people doing good things in their communities – athletes or just your regular run-of-the-mill person.”
One meaningful project at Bonfire Impact was a week-long series on the story of Steve Gleason, his foundation (Team Gleason), and all the lives he has been able to affect through his efforts to find a cure for ALS. The Bonfire Impact team went down to New Orleans for the week of the Super Bowl to cover the work that Gleason and past NFL teammate Scott Fujita were accomplishing with the foundation.
In order to graduate with an MBA in only four-and-a-half years of schooling, Cameron had to take about 18-21 credits every semester in addition to summer classes. Cameron admits that it was difficult. ”The hardest part was timing and knowing you have to sacrifice certain things to accomplish this goal,” explained Cameron. ”I was used to working so hard and putting so much effort into school, that when it came to football, something I truly enjoy, it made it a lot easier.” That work ethic has also allowed Cameron to focus on his off-the-field work, including Bonfire Impact, while he continues to put in effort to become a better professional football player.
Cameron wants to make the world a better place, but on a smaller level, he wishes to have a positive impact on football players. He may have the unique opportunity to do both. At the end of my interview with the Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle, he had one final piece of advice for players: “I feel like knowledge and information gives you financial freedom. If you don’t have reassurance in what you know, you are susceptible of being robbed.” Ronnie Cameron is living proof that knowledge is power, and the perfect example of how an athlete can attain a shield against going broke.
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