'It's A Grind': An NFL Player's Struggle For Survival
Ross Ventrone has been hired, promoted, or fired by the New England Patriots no fewer than 29 times in two years. The transition the defensive back from Villanova made into the world of professional football has been different from what most people would assume, he tells Guy Raz, host of weekends of All Things Considered.
"For guys like me, it's a grind," Ventrone says. "I'm fighting every day for my job, and you never know what's going to happen."
Add to that the pressure players face to keep their bodies in perfect condition despite painful blows during practices and games.
"You're always an injury away from never playing again," Ventrone says.
Ventrone was cut after training camp. Three days later, he was re-signed. A couple weeks after that, he was cut again. On and on and on, just like that, for the past two years. A new NFL season begins Sept. 5, but unfortunately Ventrone has been cut again.
It comes down to numbers: NFL teams are allowed a maximum of 53 players, and Ventrone always comes in either #53 or #54. He has been able to make a decent living so far, but work is unpredictable.
"The money is good whenever it's coming in," he says, "its just a matter of how long its going to be coming in for."
Ventrone earns the NFL's minimum rookie salary, but only gets paid for the weeks he is on a the roster.
Ventrone is confident he will be back on the field this season as higher-ranking players are bound to suffer injuries.
"I don't wish it upon anybody, but it's a fact that guys are going to be getting hurt," he says.
It's that attitude that probably elevated him to play professional ball in the first place.
"I think there will be an opportunity," he says. "I just have to seize it."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
How is this for a story about job insecurity? Ross Ventrone has been hired, promoted or fired by the same company no fewer than 29 times - and that's just since 2010. And his employer? It's the New England Patriots. Ross Ventrone is a defensive back, and two years ago, he joined the team as an undrafted rookie from Villanova.
After training camp, he was cut, and then three days later, he was re-signed. And a couple weeks after that, he was cut again, on and on and on, just like that, for the past two seasons. And with a new one about to begin this week, Ross Ventrone has been cut again.
Basically, NFL teams are allowed to keep a maximum of 53 players on their active roster, and Ross Ventrone often seems to end up being number 54.
ROSS VENTRONE: It's all a numbers game on what each position needs number-wise.
RAZ: I reached Ross Ventrone at his family's home in Pittsburg this past week. So what does that mean? I mean, because a lot of people say you're an NFL player, you must be, like, really rich and living a great life.
VENTRONE: No. It doesn't work like that. I mean, a lot of people get, I think, mixed up, and they see all these big contracts going on with the superstars of the NFL. And for guys like me and stuff, it's a grind, you know? We're, like, I'm fighting every day for my job and it's - I mean, you're always, like, an injury away from never playing again. So for guys like me and not the superstars in, like, the limelight, you know, it's an everyday grind.
RAZ: So have you been able - in these past two years, have you been able to make a pretty decent living?
VENTRONE: Yeah. The money is good whenever it's coming in. It's just a matter of how long it's going to be coming in for, you know? It's - you never know when it's your time.
RAZ: You were first signed in April of 2010. Which player were you most star struck by?
VENTRONE: Star struck by? I mean, probably Tom Brady when I first got there, you know? But, I mean, you're in the locker room, you're like, I'm here with a three-time Super Bowl champ, NFL MVP and, you know, dates a supermodel, all that - all of that stuff. But you see him for a week, and you're - I mean, he's just another player on the team. Just - he's your co-worker.
RAZ: Now that you are a two-year NFL veteran, have you dated supermodels?
VENTRONE: I have not dated a supermodel. My current girlfriend could be a supermodel but she's not.
RAZ: OK. The NFL season is about to begin. How do you feel? I mean, are - do you - are you confident that you may be back, or are you - do you think you're out this season?
VENTRONE: No. I'm confident that I'll be back. It's a long season. I mean, 17 weeks and a lot of teams have guys go down. I mean, I don't wish it upon anybody, but it's a fact that guys are going to be getting hurt. If an opportunity strikes that I can go in and help a team out, you know, hopefully I can get a call and go in and perform well. So I think there will be an opportunity, and I just have to seize it.
RAZ: That's Ross Ventrone. He is an NFL defensive back. Since April of 2010, he's been hired, promoted or cut by the New England Patriots 29 times. Ross, thanks, and good luck to you.
VENTRONE: Hey, thank you guys so much for having me. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.