Still Knocking Down Obstacles: Jovan Haye on His Inspiring Book Tour

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A couple of weeks ago, on a Thursday night, our store was packed — standing room only — with people who wanted to meet Jovan Haye, the author of Bigger Than Me: How a Boy Conquered Dyslexia to Play in the NFL. The crowd included adults, kids, football fans, and families associated with a local chapter of Decoding Dyslexia, an organization that aims to increase access to educational interventions for dyslexia-related learning differences.

It’s no wonder Haye’s story inspires others. Born into poverty and an abusive household, he grew up believing he was “a dumb kid” because of undiagnosed dyslexia and related conditions. In his memoir, he tells the story of how athletics gave him a sense of success and the courage to work his way up to the honor roll – then on to Vanderbilt University and the NFL (where he played most recently for the Tennessee Titans). Now retired from football, he is a dad, husband, and business owner with a mission to help those who face the same challenges he did.

We followed up with Haye to talk about how his book tour experience is going.

One of the most touching moments during your appearance here was when a little boy – he must have been about 11 or 12 – asked if you had ever gotten so tired of trying in school that you just wanted to give up.

JH: You know, I didn’t say this that night – because there were some really young people in the crowd – but there were times I wanted to kill myself. Especially going into middle school. Every day feeling like no one’s in your corner, no one cares, feeling like you’re always a loner, getting picked on in class… There were times I thought, “I’d rather take my life than go through this.”

But I decided again and again to keep going and to ask for help. Was it an easy decision? No. It was very hard. I keep things inside and don’t want my problems to be anyone else’s. But it was more than I could take alone.

haye bookWhat was the turning point for you, when you felt like things were looking up?

JH: Basketball. Later in middle school. I finally felt like I was part of a group. I didn’t have to worry about bullies anymore, because those guys had a lot of friends and cousins. I could walk to school and be safe – they wouldn’t let anything happen to me. Teammates naturally take up for teammates.

You made a great comment at the end of the evening with us, when you were signing books – you said, “This isn’t exactly how I thought retirement would go.” What did you think you’d be doing after getting out of the NFL, and how is this different?

JH: [Laughs] Oh, I thought I’d be just spending time with my kids, playing video games, watching TV, not picking up the phone. That was it, what I envisioned. The reality? I’m always on the phone. I don’t travel every day, but I travel a lot, and I’m about to be traveling even more.

I’m always meeting people. When I was in college, people would tell me, “Hey Jovan, it’s important to build rapport, get people’s numbers, build relationships…” I thought, whatever, that’s for the birds. But it’s amazing how one person knows another person. I’m meeting so many people now because I’m stepping out of that comfort zone.

And you like what you’re doing? It’s rewarding?

JH: The most rewarding part is I’m doing something I actually love. I have a passion for this, just like I had a passion for football when I was playing.

I’m on the board of an organization called Eye to Eye — it’s a mentoring organization for kids with learning disabilities and dyslexia, where they pair adults up with students. The other day, I was in New York with that group, and I went to Harlem for the first time, to a neighborhood school. I’d never been there before. To go to that school and talk to those kids and see how everyone doesn’t treat them the same… Whew. There were other kids – kids without these disabilities – crowding around the door, wanting to come in the room where I was talking. One teacher said, “No, sorry, this is their moment.” Right there, I saw how I could make someone’s day. These kids won’t forget this. I’ve been in their shoes.

I just played football. I don’t have a crazy-big name or anything. This is the rewarding part. I love every minute of this.

jovan

Haye signed a big stack of books before he left Parnassus. If you’d like an autographed copy of Bigger Than Me, stop by the store or order below and make sure to put “SIGNED” in the notes at checkout.

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Get inspired:

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