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Stoicism In Professional Sports: An Interview with NFL Exec Michael Lombardi


Michael Lombardi might be one of the most quiet but influential executives in the NFL. He won two Super Bowls, 30 years apart—one under Bill Walsh and one under Bill Belichick. More than just coaching strategies, he’s notorious in the league for the ideas he’s spread. He was one of the first executives to study the science of scouting players for character (detailed here in this fascinating ESPN piece). To my eternal gratitude, he’s also responsible for bringing Stoic philosophy to the NFL (detailed here in this Sports Illustrated piece), and in the process popularizing my book The Obstacle Is The Way. I was as surprised as anyone to hear that that Seattle Seahawks began looking at Stoicism because it was recommended to the by the Patriots shortly after their Super Bowl win over the Seahawks.

But it makes sense when you understand Mike. Mike has been consuming and studying philosophy for years. Through his tireless recommendations and reputation as a thought leader in the sport, he’s managed to bring ancient philosophy to elite athletes not just in football but in professional sports at large. Mike is also a former General Manager of the Cleveland Browns and has been in executive positions in teams such as the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles. He was also an analyst and commentator for the NFL Network and is currently working on a book, which will include lessons learned from his experience with football greats such as Bill Walsh, Belichick and Al Davis. You can also catch him at Fox Sports where he is currently a football commentator.  

But instead of talking sports—which could be done anywhere—I wanted to talk to Mike about ancient philosophy and how it works as a strategy for anyone, in any career.

What was your first exposure to stoicism? How has your study progressed since then?

For Christmas one year my wife bought me a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius which sent me down the path of learning more about being a Stoic. I then took the 30-day Stoic challenge as well as enrolled in Donald Robertson online class each November. It has been a gradual learning experience for me as well. Reading the works of Seneca, or Epicurus provides me with a great start