At the 2012 NFL Draft, commissioner Roger Goodell announced one of the picks for the Dallas Cowboys, which was met with an unhappy response by the fans and spectators at the event. The process and the boos were nothing new to Goodell or those in attendance, but former Cowboys quarterback Chad Hennings couldn’t let it go, and not for the reasons you’d think.
After the first round, Hennings and other former players were slated to announce draft picks. When it was Hennings’ turn to present, Goodell had introduced him as a decorated veteran and was greeted with a polite clap because, according to Hennings, “Nobody’s going to ‘boo’ a veteran.” That just wouldn’t do for Hennings.
“The world isn’t balanced if the craziest Philadelphia fans can’t ‘boo’ a Cowboys player,” Hennings said.
To right this wrong, Hennings announced that the next draft pick was going to “America’s team, THE Dallas Cowboys.” Sure enough, fans erupted and Hennings, with a wave to the crowd, felt like the world was balanced again.
But who is Chad Hennings?
Born and raised in a small town outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Hennings was just your typical country boy on the high school football and wrestling teams. By his senior year, Hennings was an All-State in football and state heavyweight champ in wrestling.
Hennings went on to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy in 1988 and eventually earned his A-10 fighter pilot wings by 1990. From 1991 and 1992, Hennings was deployed with the 92d Tactical fighting Squadron and flew 45 missions to help aid in relief and humanitarian efforts in northern Iraq.
Following his promotion to Captain in 1992, Hennings decided to retire and pursue his football career while he still could, and joined the Dallas Cowboys roster — the team drafted him in 1988 even though he was set to fulfill his military commitment. At first, Hennings thought it would be a hard transition from the military to professional football, especially as an older rookie, but he soon realized that wasn’t the case at all.
“You’d be surprised at the commonality, particularly in the behavioral sciences and behavioral health aspect of post-traumatic stress that a lot of guys down range have as well as individuals in professional athletics; they’re wired the same,” Hennings said. “[It is] a lot like being in athletics — highly competitive, alpha males, best of the best. The experiences that you have from your military experience [are] invaluable lessons learned.”
Hennings was able to prove how valuable his time in the Air Force was and the year he flew his last mission in Iraq was the same year he played in his first Super Bowl ever. That’s how fast life changed for Hennings. That’s who Hennings was to outsiders looking in, but was that really who he was? According to Hennings, what you do does not define who you are.
“I was a three-time super bowl champion,” Hennings said. “It was a nine-year career with the Cowboys and it was a major trial in my life with the help of my son that made me realize that those things that [I] had accomplished, they were just that, they were things. For the first time in my life, I started to question, who am I? What was that foundational philosophy, that metric that I could pass? Why am I doing what I’m doing? It’s not because [I] can’t fulfill that inner need with things of just material gain or fame. I’ve been there, done that. It’s about impacting others. It’s about relationships. It’s about being a coach.”
Hennings continued on and said there are three phases we all go through in life. In our first phase, we are trying to make a name for ourselves, and trying to figure ourselves out as well. Then, our next phase in life is honing those skills and growing, and the last stage in life is when we start to impact the next generation. That is Chad Hennings.
“Your lessons that you have had on your personal walk will impact others,” Hennings said. “Don’t be afraid to share that testimony.”
Photo credits: Chad Hennings’ Instagram