In a world where hundreds of young men think the joyride will last forever, Latavius Murray fully understands the reality of longevity in the National Football League.
Murray knows the shelf on running backs. He’s aware that only six running backs over the age of 30 carried the ball more than 100 times last season and Frank Gore was the only back older than 33 to get a handful of touches.
So following a strong 2017 season in which he gained 842 yards on the ground and scored eight touchdowns, the Minnesota Vikings’ veteran running back decided to take steps to lay the foundation for his post-career life. This offseason he began taking Masters in Business Administration courses at Syracuse University
“When you’ve gone through some adversity and specifically with me injuries, it forces you to think about post career and maybe what’s next,” Murray said following practice on Monday.
The 28-year-old underwent offseason surgery prior to 2017 and didn’t appear to be up to full speed until nearly midway through the season.
“You start to realize there is a big picture going on here and football can be taken away from you at any moment,” Murray said.
He decided to take advantage of a program set up by the NFL Players Association called the NFL Player Tuition Assistance Plan. It allows players with at least one credited season to be reimbursed up to $20,000 for tuition, fees and books every year.
Inside of the former sixth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2013, there has always been interests in other areas outside of football — which, considering his Pro Bowl resume, serves as proof that an all-football-all-the-time mentality isn’t always the path to success. He’s always liked the idea of investing in business ventures. Prior to getting into MBA classes, Murray haphazardly started a merchandise company based off his nickname “Tay Train.”
Now that he’s been back in school, the Vikings’ running back realizes the errors of some of his early practices.
“I had my boys shipping out the shirts, I had somebody create a website and we were kind of running the whole thing ourselves,” Murray said. “Now I’m working with a company that’s doing it and I’m hands off. That’s more efficient. The way that I was doing it was probably costing me more money, wasn’t timely. It wasn’t organized.”
“I’m learning now,” he added proudly.
Murray is finding that learning has a different feel than it did when he was a star player at the University of Central Florida.
“Because I’m older now and — this might be wrong to say — but I care. It’s my choice and I know what I’m getting out of it,” Murray said. “If I’m being honest, I was a young kid coming out of high school, I’m tired of school, just want to play football, just want to enjoy college, just want to be a college kid who plays ball. That’s different now. This is something I want to do.”
Another influencing factor for Murray is — like many people in their late-20s — the adaptation from being a young-NFL player with no responsibility to a father and soon-to-be husband. He can envision a time in which his son is finally old enough to understand the NFL and dad is already retired.
“I think now being engaged, now knowing we have taken that relationship to that level, now having a child, that adds a whole bigger element to it,” Murray said.
“I starting thinking at this point in my life start making decisions that I can look back and be proud of and tell him: ‘this is what I did, believe it or not.'”
Over the last 10 years or so there has been an uptick in conversation about players’ post-career woes with money. A 2009 Sports Illustrated article that particularly made waves claimed that 78 percent of NFL players were either bankrupt or in great financial stress within two years of being out of the league.
While those numbers have been debated — even by the author of the piece — Murray believes that articles like the one in SI and the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Broke helped play a role in current players better understanding the dangers of money mismanagement and the potential benefits of programs like the Player Tuition Assistance Plan.
“The information that we have available to us and accessible to us, those players didn’t have,” Murray said. “We have that information now. We have — sad to say — their examples. The guys before didn’t have those examples because they weren’t dealing with that much money back in the day. We have those examples now and the information now to not do that. We have the education, the financial advisors to hopefully avoid that.”
It’s worth noting the Player Tuition Assistance Plan does not end when a player wraps up his career. It also allows for eligible former players to be reimbursed up to $15,000 for players with two Credited Seasons; $30,000 for players with three Credited Season; $45,000 for players with four Credited Seasons; and, $60,000 for players with five or more Credited Seasons.
There is also the Trust’s Scholarship Award Benefit, which provides eligible former NFL players with funding to use at approved educational organizations, vocational institutions, technical programs and professional licensing programs. According to the NFLPA, as of February 2018, The Trust has granted over $15 million to former players to return to the classroom and over 300 players have completed their undergrad, graduate, or vocational degree through the benefit.
Having players like Murray simply act as role models to younger players could take a bite out of the percentage of those who struggle post-career. Young running back Dalvin Cook, a second-round pick in the 2017 draft, has taken notice of Murray’s endeavor.
“Off the field, Latavius just carries himself like he’s about business,” Cook said. “The school part is big on his behalf. To get his degree and to go back and do that, that takes a lot. Football keeps you busy. For him to do that, I respect him for that.”
Murray, who Cook who calls the “big brother in the room,” sees the domino effect of sharing his story with teammates.
“For Dalvin to see that — that’s not the reason I’m doing it — but I think those things are good,” Murray said. “I’ve talked to other players who are like, ‘man you’re going back to get [a degree], man that’s smart.’ Whether they didn’t finish, they want to go back and finish now. If they finished, but now they want to do the same thing and go get further education. I think that’s what it’s about. When we have that opportunity, why wouldn’t you?”
The decision to attend Syracuse University, which is only a few miles from where Murray was a high school standout, had another layer beyond preparation for the future. It marked the first time he had been back to Central New York since his best friend was shot to death on Thanksgiving eve 2016. Last offseason he did not attend return for an annual football camp following a not-guilty ruling for his friend’s killer. Using his return home to press forward was cathartic.
“It was exactly what I needed,” Murray said. “The time away it gave me the time I needed given everything that happened. When I went back, as I told people, no matter the situation that happened with my best friend, anything that could happen at home, it’s still home. I had a great offseason. I had some fun being home, being with family, my fiancé was able to see where I grew up, training with a guy I used to train with. It was a good summer for me.”
As he chases an MBA and a Super Bowl, Murray does want to make clear that “football is it” during the season. He won’t be starting the next big company while the Vikings are preparing to do battle with the NFC North. But even if his team ultimately wins a championship, the Vikings’ running back does not always want to be known as “the Vikings’ running back.”
“I feel that my football career won’t be what I’m remembered for,” Murray said. “I feel I’ll be remembered for something different. Maybe for something greater than what is a great game. I’m always looking for more and what more I can do.”