In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, former NFL first-round pick Jake Locker finally opened up about why he left football after just four years in the league ⏤ and why he doesn’t regret his decision one bit. Turns out that the quarterback valued two things in life more than throwing touchdowns for the Tennessee Titans: His faith and his family.
According to the story, Locker found himself falling out of love with football after being drafted eighth overall by the Titans in 2011, as he noticed that fame and fortune were often prioritized over the game itself. Admittedly, Locker was never likely to be a star in the NFL. Despite signing for $12.5 million out of the draft, he was benched by the Titans midway through his final season in the league. But he did have enough talent to keep playing, if only as a backup. Instead, Locker walked away and initially offered no real reason for his decision. His father, Scott, told the Seattle Times in 2015 that it was because he wanted to focus more on his wife Lauren and their two children, Colbie and Cooper.
“That’s his focus right now … to be the best dad he can be,’’ Scott said in a phone interview with the Seattle Times. “And he’s a dang good one, so I’m proud of him.’’
Locker confirmed his dad’s statement in this new interview with Sports Illustrated, noting that the NFL isn’t big on work-life balance and that he was barely getting to spend time with his family. He also was becoming a more devout Christian and, at times, felt his career distracted from that growing part of his life. The two issues together led Locker to retire after the 2014 season, a decision while not unprecedented⏤ think Calvin Johnson, Chris Borland, Ricky Williams ⏤ is still rare. And especially difficult for fans, and sometimes teammates, to process.
Nonetheless, Locker’s commitment to doing right by his family won over his Titans teammate Matt Hasselbeck. “Every coach I ever played for says these are the priorities: faith, family, football. But no one really lives that way. No one. Jake didn’t retire. He put family and faith first. This is the way I judge people now: If you don’t like Jake Locker, I don’t think I can like you.”
These days, Locker lives in Ferndale, Washington, with his family, where he does a little bit of everything: He helps coach the local high school football team, he co-owns a gym obviously named ‘the Locker Room,’ he plays in a softball league. But, mainly, Locker spends a lot of time with his wife and children. He says that he has “no regrets” about leaving the game behind but that fans and even friends will still ask him what he’s doing to keep busy.
“And that was interesting, this idea that you have to be busy to be valuable,” he says. “That I couldn’t just be a dad.”
To turn down that amount of money is no easy feat, and plenty of players continue to play long after their love for the game runs dry. But for Locker, spending time with the people that mean the most to him was worth way more than the millions of dollars he forfeited ⏤ and it made the decision all the easier.