Ryan Fitzpatrick Is Showing Us How to Lead From the Sidelines The veteran NFL QB is giving way to a younger generation and demonstrating that it's OK to be upset, disappointed or heartbroken.

By Josh Womack

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Back in March I wrote about the value of backup quarterbacks. With the NFL season now seven games in, we've already seen the importance of having a capable, reliable signal-caller to step in at a moment's notice. For the Miami Dolphins, the season began with Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 16-year NFL veteran loved throughout the league. It was common knowledge that he would start the season, but that eventually, last year's fifth-overall draft pick — former University of Alabama standout Tua Tagovailoa — would take over.

This cycle is clockwork in the NFL:

  • Team drafts a rookie quarterback high to hopefully be the face of the franchise for the next decade.
  • Team starts the season with a veteran quarterback who can take the hits while the rookie learns from the sidelines.
  • Team struggles to win and eventually puts in the rookie to get experience since the playoffs are out of the picture.

Here's the rub: The Dolphins are winning, and a playoff birth could happen. More surprisingly than all that is the lesson in transparency and leadership from Fitzpatrick.

Related: What Tom Brady's Patriots Exit Teaches Us About the Value of Teamwork

"My heart just hurt all day. It was heartbreaking for me"

This is what Fitzpatrick told the media when he was informed of the news he'd no longer be the starting quarterback. He knew eventually Tua would take over, but it still hurt when it happened.

All of us have either been passed over for a promotion, or worse, demoted at a job. For the macho sport of football, Fitzpatrick's honesty is something a lot of veteran quarterbacks feel, but don't articulate. In speaking from the heart, Fitzpatrick is showing a generation of current and future NFL players that it's not only OK to be upset, disappointed or heartbroken; it's also OK to vocalize these emotions. And it might just be his lasting legacy.

"I feel happy and privileged to be in the position that I'm in."

Even though it still hurts to be benched, Fitzpatrick knows he was once a rookie quarterback, and that veterans helped him the same way he plans on helping Tua. "You can't wait until you're on your death bed to start creating a legacy. You have to decide long before that the way you want to be remembered and the lessons you want to teach," says David Abend, co-founder and editor of The Bucket, a platform inspired by what it describes as "mortality-based living," adding, "You can't lead a selfish life and then decide you want your legacy to be that you sacrificed for others."

Fitzpatrick has a reasonable case to be mad. The Dolphins are 3-3 and a game out of first place in the AFC East. But while he's lasted in the league because of his talent, his endurance owens just as much to emotional intelligence.

Staying in the game

What can entrepreneurs learn from a 37-year-old, caveman-looking quarterback? A lot, especially when it comes to career success. "Habits that align with your goals shouldn't be aimed at winning the game, rather they should be aimed at staying in the game," says Atomic Habits author James Clear.

Fitzpatrick might not be on the field going forward, but he's still at practice, in the locker room and on the team. He's still in the game. And to reiterate what Abend said earlier: "You have to decide the way you want to be remembered and the lessons you want to teach."

For Fitzpatrick, the lessons he taught about selflessness and transparency will make all of us remember him long after he retires.

Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From the XFL's Second Attempt at Victory

Josh Womack

Head Writer

Josh Womack is the co-founder and head writer of Laugh Staff, a company that uses comedians to write speeches. He is also a copywriter at Ninety6, Progressive Insurance's in-house ad agency.

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