Three years ago, Chris Carr traded in his helmet and shoulder pads for casebooks and outlines. Now, the former NFL player is set to graduate from George Washington University Law School and embark on a second career as an immigration law attorney.
Carr graduated from Boise State University in 2005 then spent nine seasons in the National Football League as a cornerback and punt returner for a variety of teams, including the Oakland Raiders, the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens. But injuries caught up with him in 2011 and 2012, and he retired from the NFL in March 2014. He enrolled in law school that fall.
We talked to Carr this week about his transition from the gridiron to the classroom, how his NFL experience prepared him for law school, and how his classmates reacted to having a former professional athlete in their midst. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
How does it feel to be graduating in a few days?
It feels good. It’s a little bittersweet. I enjoyed my time in law school. But it’s one of those things where you enjoy it, but it’s time to end. It has run its course.
Walk me through your decision to leave the NFL and pursue law.
When I took constitutional law in college, it was the first time I did something I liked more than sports. I knew I wanted to go to law school. It wasn’t “if” I was going to go. It was “when.”
Then I said, “Well, if I can play in the NFL, then I’ll play,” but I didn’t really think it was a possibility. Once I felt I was good enough to play, I thought, “I’ll put all my effort into this and try play as long as I want to, because it’s an opportunity to get paid a lot of money for a short period of time in your life.”
My goal was to play cornerback and to be respected. After the 2010 season, I felt like I accomplished that. After that season, my mindset changed a bit. I had achieved my goal. The next year I had a lot of injuries. After that, I thought, “My body isn’t holding up the way it used to.” I felt like I was going backward.
Was that an easy call to make?
Yeah, it was a pretty easy call. It wasn’t as fun as it used to be. My body wasn’t holding up. I had done everything I wanted to do. I’d played in a lot of playoff games, but never played in a Super Bowl. That would have been great.
Especially around 2010, when they started talking to us about concussions and how football affects the brain, I thought, “If you want to do something else, you shouldn’t stick around forever.”
George Washington actually had a seminar on the legal implications of traumatic brain injuries, inspired by the NFL and professional sports. Were you able to take that?
No. They weren’t offering it when I was there.
Were there ways that your NFL experience proved helpful in law school?
I felt like the weekly pressures of the NFL helped me. It’s kind of like having a final every week, where you have to perform well. In the NFL, there are no guaranteed contracts, like there is in other sports. There’s a pressure to perform every week so someone else doesn’t take your spot. I was already used to working long days, so the workload didn’t bother me my 1L year.
I also think the NFL helped my memory. It might leave one day, but I think it helped my memory because I made a conscious decision early in my career not to rely on notes too much. When I watched game film, I’d keep it in my head. When you’re playing a football game, you can’t bring your notes on the field to see, “Here’s the formation.” It taught me how to retain information in my head.
Did your classmates know about your NFL career?
They figured it out. One thing that’s good is that I’m so much smaller than your typical football player, and I lost 25 pounds. I don’t look like someone who used to play. I think it was mostly word of mouth. Only a few people actually recognized me.
Did people treat you differently because of your NFL career?
I don’t think so. I came in and made a conscious decision that I wanted people to respect me on the merits. I wanted to make people feel comfortable that, “Hey, I’m just like you guys even though I had a job that’s famous or whatnot.”
What was your favorite law class?
Evidence and Constitutional Law were probably my favorite classes.
Evidence was just so interesting. You see trials on TV, but you don’t know there is a whole game going on behind the scenes. What’s admissible evidence? What’s not? Why is hearsay not admissible? I felt like it was fascinating and intuitive.
My professor in Constitutional Law, Peter Smith, was really good. It’s just so interesting, the history of how our Constitution is unique. Just knowing how all these decisions affect our lives was so interesting.
You have three young children. How did that impact your law school experience?
In one sense, it was cool because I’d have long days, then you see your kids and they instantly make you feel better and it puts things in perspective. That helps in regard to stress management.
But it was also tough. My kids are small, in preschool. I was sick more in the past two years than I was in the past 10 years. I was sick all the time. One kid gets sick, then I get sick, then every kid gets sick. It was taxing at times. I lot of times I was really tired. For the first time in my life I started drinking coffee.
That’s just life. I went to law school at a different point in my life and I just had more stuff on my plate than the average student.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to work at Zeman and Petterson, an immigration firm in Virginia. Mostly in family-based immigration. They do some business immigration stuff. They said they are open to having me do some criminal defense work as well. We plan on staying here for a couple of years, then I’d like to open my own firm in Southern California. I’m taking the California bar this summer.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ