It’s always been hard to keep up with Ray Austin. Since he began his football journey as a kid growing up in Hawaii, Austin has been on the move, both literally and figuratively. He got his start in the game that would shape his life in 1987 at the insistence of his mother, who wanted to see her son do more with his physical gifts.
“I really did start to play because my Mom made me,” he explained. “I was an introverted kid, I was into more creative things. I had big hands though. Growing up in Hawaii though, all the other kids were bigger than me so I was 100% scared to play against them. But, I went out there and figured out I was faster than everyone else and literally the first day I started playing I fell in love with it because of that.”
He would ultimately earn accolades as a defensive back and by the time he had gotten to high school, Austin had attracted the attention of college programs all over the country. However, Austin had a goal – to make it to the NFL. To do this, he felt he needed to compete at the best program he could and play on the biggest stage possible. He decided that the University of Tennessee was where he needed to be.
“Tennessee was one of the only schools I didn’t get recruited by, so I put together a tape on my own and sent it to their offices,” Austin said. “They were down there recruiting me the next day. There were so many things about Tennessee that made me want to go there and I loved every minute of my time with the Volunteers.”
In 1997, Austin was drafted into the NFL by the New York Jets. After one season in New York, he was signed by the Chicago Bears where he would spend the next three seasons. It was in the Windy City that Austin truly found home and the fans there made an impact on him that still resonates to this day.
“Chicago is one of those places that, as a player, you always want to play,” he said. “Chicago has that strong connection with football and you always want to be a part of that tradition. Even though I got drafted by New York, I’ve always felt that Chicago is my home.”
After what he calls a really fun stint in the original XFL with the Chicago Enforcers, Austin retired from football after the 2001 season. He then began a career as an entrepreneur and as an actor. In business, he would start an athletic performance training center and train some of the best athletes in the world. As an actor, he would spend 15 years appearing in national commercials, films, and television shows (he has a recurring role on the hit TV series Empire).
“I’ve actually had a little bit more success in acting than I had in football,” Austin said with a laugh. “I was always a creative type and I think I got to show that in football before I got into acting. I have been fortunate to do some really great things.”
Among some of those “great things” is Austin’s latest venture, the Fan Controlled Football League (FCFL). Austin co-founded the league with investment partners and the new venture touts itself as a unique intersection between the high-action world of football and the immediate connectivity of e-sports. The FCFL will allow fans the opportunity to call plays in real time during real games.
“I think for [my partners and I], this first season will be a success if this becomes something that people will think is fun,” he said. “If we can show that fan controlled sports are something that people want to spend their time doing, I think that is going to be big for us.”
While he left the sport behind, he never left behind the lessons it taught. Whether in business or in the arts, Austin is always able to rely on what football has given him.
“First things first, in football I learned never to give up,” Austin said. “In football and life, you’re going to make mistakes. As football players, especially as defensive backs, we’re taught to get over things very, very quickly. You always have another play, you always have a chance to make up for things. That’s football and that’s life. Never give up.”