Dream Chaser

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Martellus Bennett, Tight End / Patriots - The Players' Tribune

Pick one thing and do it well. That’s what society tells us. With each step we take in our lives, we leave big dreams behind and move toward smaller ones. And when those dreams are delivered, they show up in a plain, brown box, with a white label that’s addressed to you. They come with low-level instructions, and maybe even a silly inspirational quote like, “When you shoot for the stars, land on the stars. Don’t settle for the moon!” Give me a break.

Well, I never signed for that box.

I have never been a guy to settle on one dream. And I will never regret having a lot of dreams.

As a child I was never one thing. I never defined myself by one group or one label. I read music with the kids in the band, did science projects with the brains, played catch with the jocks and shot dice with the guys from the streets. My peers, who all stayed within their own cliques, never asked me to choose. I’m not sure why they never pressured me, or why they never felt that they could branch out as well.

Ask most people to define me, and they’ll say I’m an athlete. Ask my friends, and they’ll say I’m a dependable weirdo. Ask my teammates, and they’ll say I’m a badass. Ask my family, and they’ll say (well, some of them will say) that I’m fun and lovable.

But ask me to define myself? And I’ll ask, “Why?”

What I am to myself is a dream chaser. There’s plenty of people who will try and stop you from pursuing your dreams — who will tell you that you can’t do what you want to do. But I take the same approach with them as I do with linebackers and safeties who try to keep me from getting into the end zone: I dodge them. I may not have scored many touchdowns in my career, but by avoiding the naysayers I have run down a ton of my dreams.

Chasing my dreams starting long before I reached the NFL. At first, I was just a kid with a thousand ideas for what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. My parents were the first to tell me that I could be anything I wanted. And I truly believed that, though it wasn’t always easy. As we get older, we keep shortening our list of dreams until there’s only a few left. What we thought was possible as kids doesn’t seem so doable when we become adults. Childhood dreams don’t always pay the bills.

And once one dream is achieved, there’s a danger that you’ll settle because, well, one dream coming true is enough. Right? That’s how I felt when I made it to the NFL. Being a professional football player had always been one of my dreams. Sure, there were others, but once I reached the NFL I settled. Even though I had resisted labels for so much of my life, I was suddenly allowing myself to be defined by one word: athlete.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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I’ve always had a burning desire to tell stories. I fell in love with books and animation at a young age. The stories told by Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, R.L Stine, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, Shel Silverstein, J.K. Rowling, Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paul Curtis and Donald J. Sobol brought me so much joy. They also helped me to see that anything could happen in worlds you created yourself.

I began creating worlds within my own in my imagination, and I would visit those places as often as possible. I wanted my friends to go too, but they couldn’t see the things I could, so I began writing and acting out what was going in my head. Whenever we took a break from destroying each other during neighborhood football games — sitting on the curb unwrapping our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — I would tell them stories that I had made up myself. They came to me just like the plays that I used to draw up out on the sandlot.

I also loved cartoons. When I woke up on Saturday mornings I would eat a giant bowl of Cap’n Crunch or Honeycomb and watch cartoons — often with a twin-sized bedsheet tied around on my neck like a cape. Just like Darkwing Duck.

I have never been a guy to settle on one dream. And I will never regret having a lot of dreams.

Those stories and that love of animation didn’t disappear when I reached the NFL. And when I realized that they were still part of me, I stopped settling. And I became more than just an athlete.

I’ve always wanted to share my stories with the world. And over the past couple of years I’ve been chasing that dream. I have been training to tell stories at the highest level in much the same way I train every summer to get faster in order to run down the seam and catch deep passes in the NFL.

I didn’t know anything about writing books or making movies. I just knew that I had stories to tell.

So I picked up some books, spent hours on the Internet, and read, and read, and read. And then I went back through the movies made by my favorite directors, and I watched them over, and over, and over, dissecting the characters and the storylines. I enrolled in design classes. I cold-emailed people at Pixar and DreamWorks and Nickelodeon, and that resulted in personal tours of their campuses, and meetings with the people behind the stories. Finally, I pitched ideas of my own. I went after my dream — as hard as I could.

Now, some of those people at Pixar and DreamWorks and Nickelodeon are my good friends, and they help me with my own storyboards and ideas for animated shows and a children’s book series that I am working on.

You can be anything you that you can dream of. It’s true: When you shoot for the stars, land on the stars. Don’t settle for the moon. There’s so much more beyond.

Animation and books allowed me to dream beyond just the football field. They gave me different universes, different superpowers, and different ways to see the world. And the people behind the animation and books that I loved empowered me to create universes of my own. Now I have my own creative company, and my mission is to create your next great adventure. I want everybody in the world to dream bigger and imagine more.

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Game Break: Martellus Bennett

Most NFL players always have a playbook nearby. For New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, it's his animation notebooks that are never far from his grasp. In this Game Break, Martellus, a published children's book author and budding animator, shows his off-the-field passion for art, illustration and animation.Photograph by Michael Lebrecht/The Players' Tribune

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