Jake Plummer walked away from millions in the NFL, seemingly turning his back on every mans dream. Now he lives in Idaho and runs handball tournaments. He even volunteers at Meals On Wheels:
In part because of his appearance but mostly because of his demeanor, Plummer is able to live in relative anonymity. One of his handball friends, Tye Barlow, tells how, a couple of years ago in Sandpoint, Plummer was volunteering for Meals on Wheels, and the organization ran into funding problems. The woman in charge put a hand on Plummer’s shoulder. “Jake, I’m sorry, we’re out of money this month. But keep track, and we’ll pay you for your gas.”
“Don’t worry about it,” replied Plummer.
She insisted. Again, Plummer assured her it was O.K. “No, Jake, you don’t even have a job!” she said sternly. “You have to keep track of your miles. You need the money.”
“I played in the NFL for a little while,” Plummer said. “I’m O.K.”
Dumbstruck, the woman appraised the scruffy man who’d been delivering food for months. “You’re that Jake Plummer?”
He was also a close friend to Pat Tillman, who also abruptly quit the NFL, except he chose to join the Army after 9/11. When he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, Jake delivered a eulogy to his friend.
In April 2004 Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Two weeks later, at the funeral, Jake walked to the podium wearing a suit and, in honor of his friend, flip-flops. He had been mulling what to say for weeks, and though at the time he meant the words as a testimonial to his friend, in hindsight they hinted at the path Plummer would choose. “I was in the store the other day and I saw PEOPLE magazine, and it had the cover of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, or America, and there was a picture of Pat,” Plummer said. “It was kind of ironic because I really looked and said, What is beauty? Is beauty a pretty face, a nice smile, flowing hair, nice skin? Not to me, it’s not. To me beauty is living life to higher standards, stronger morals and ethics and believing in them, whether people tell you you’re right or wrong. Beauty is not wasting a day. Beauty is noticing life’s little intricacies and taking time out of your busy day to really enjoy those little intricacies. Beauty is being real, being genuine, being pure with no facade—what you see is what you get. Beauty is expanding your mind, always seeking knowledge, not being content, always going after something and challenging yourself.”
He’s living his life according to some of the principles I’ve been making more and more important in my own life. As the world is devolving into a mush of reality TV stars and twitter wars, sometimes it’s best to resolve yourself to going slower and saying no to a lot of the noise.
Heroes? Role models? Plummer doesn’t see the point talking about them. He’s more than happy to discuss the things that are important to him, like his friends, his family and the joy he gets from sports. He’ll play an impromptu game of handball with a couple of random 16-year-olds, as he did at 11 p.m. on the Friday of his tournament in the near-empty athletic club, laughing and sweating. He’ll say, “I love you, Dad,” every time he parts ways with his father. He’ll walk you to your car, ask about your kids, buy the first round, give someone a ride home. But that’s not heroic; that’s just being a decent person.
And where’s the glory in that?
Where indeed. Glory, like success, is in the eye of the beholder.