Justin Fields has been on quite a four-year ride. In the summer of 2017, he established himself as one of the most touted quarterback recruits in college football history—not just a five-star, but one of the 10 highest-rated five-stars in a rankings era that goes back to around 2000. Alongside future No. 1 NFL pick Trevor Lawrence, Fields became the subject of national fascination before he even took a college snap. He played, or more accurately, sat on the bench, his freshman year at Georgia, then transferred to Ohio State after a UGA athlete reportedly yelled a racial slur in his direction during a game.
In Columbus, Fields fulfilled his recruiting promise and became a star. He led the Buckeyes to two College Football Playoff appearances and also spearheaded a movement of college football players who urged administrators to continue the 2020 season during the pandemic. After leaving Ohio State, he put up some of the best pre-draft workout numbers ever and landed with the Chicago Bears. He is now the future of the franchise.
Now that Fields is a professional, he’s free to accept endorsement deals and go on press junkets. During one of those recent appearances (made possible by Wonderful Pistachios), we talked with Fields about everything from his diet to his views on the NCAA and his high-profile journey through college sports.
Men’s Journal: You entered the NFL with an $11 million signing bonus. There are many ways a person could handle that kind of cash. Are you letting yourself buy some fun stuff, or are you saving it?
Justin Fields: In terms of my football money, my contract money, I’m not gonna touch that. I’m just gonna be living off my marketing money. I’m just gonna save and invest my contract money.
What’s your diet like? How are you fueling up as you prepare for your rookie season?
I’m plant-based. I don’t eat any meat, dairy, or fish. I’ll just give you a rundown of what I ate today. I worked out this morning. After I worked out, I had a plant-based protein shake. I had another workout after lifting, then I had field work, and after that, I had a plant-based burger.
I also like Wonderful pistachios—they’re healthy, and they taste good. They’re a great snack you can eat throughout the day to keep you from being hungry. So if you don’t like eating big meals or if you just want something quick and easy, I think that’s where pistachios come in.
The NCAA recently changed its rules to allow college athletes to profit from name, image, and likeness payments. Do you wish you had that option during your college career?
Of course. I think I could’ve definitely benefited from that and been able to help my family out and be more financially comfortable personally. But I think it’s a great thing for college athletes to get their name out there, get their brand out there, and make money. I think if it wasn’t for those athletes, the schools wouldn’t be getting the revenue they’re getting.
At Ohio State, you had to be one of the five or 10 best known people in the whole state of Ohio. I know you couldn’t do it, but did you ever contemplate what you could have made in endorsements?
Yeah. I’m not sure if this is accurate or not, but I think something came out last year on what I would have made, or what they predicted I would have made, and it was a little over a million dollars. It was definitely a good amount of money, for sure.
Did you and your teammates ever talk about it much? Did you ever talk about it with anyone at Ohio State?
We talked about it ourselves as teammates, what could’ve been if we were getting paid, but we didn’t really bring it up to anybody at Ohio State. We talked about it a bit, but as far as Ohio State is concerned, that rule is the NCAA. So we knew that Ohio State could only do so much.
Last year, you were a visible leader in the #WeWantToPlay movement, where college football players pushed to have a pandemic season when it looked like one might not happen, especially in the Big Ten. Did you think a movement like that would have been possible five or 10 years ago?
No. I don’t think social media was as big as it is now. I think that’s pretty much the main thing that runs this world: social media. So many people are on it. I think we’re affected by it. So many people’s opinions are formed based on what they see on social media and what they listen to, and different stuff like that. So I definitely don’t think it would have gotten as big five to 10 years ago.
Technically speaking, college athletes don’t have much bargaining power. There’s not a union like the NFLPA. Did you feel you were organizing on the fly? How did you think about collective power at the time?
It was just me trying to figure out each and every way possible to play football last season. Us watching games the first two weeks of us just sitting at home, sitting in our apartments with each other, watching other conferences play, that’s the first time I haven’t started a season on time since I was five years old playing football. The first time in 16 years that I haven’t played a sport. It would’ve definitely been different for me. I think it would’ve definitely changed a lot of guys’ lives if that season didn’t happen, so I’m glad it did.
There were a lot of people in the media, including me, who thought it was wrong to put players through a pandemic season, given that you weren’t being paid. On the other hand, you guys can clearly speak for yourselves, and you wanted to have a season. How did you view the external debate around you?
It’s pretty simple. At the end of the day, I think each conference gave everybody the opportunity to opt out if they wanted to, and I think they also made a rule where you couldn’t lose your scholarship because of that. I don’t think there should have been a debate on whether we should play or not. I don’t think we were forced to play. I think people could have opted out, and I know a lot of players who did opt out.
It’s a personal decision, and some people’s circumstances were different. They might have had a grandma at home who couldn’t catch COVID, or something like that. I think the players should have the choice, and that’s why that petition came out.
No matter what your view was on the season, it was historic to see so many college football players speaking in unison. Was that a sign of things to come?
Of course. I think the more college athletes join together, the more they’ll realize how much power they actually do have. To be honest, before the #WeWantToPlay movement, I didn’t think we had much power. After seeing the support we got from the people not playing football and the fans, I actually realized that college athletes do have a lot of power, and there’s even more power when you join up with guys from different conferences, different teams, and stuff like that.
You had a very unique college football experience, with a lot of ups and downs, and pretty much all of it spent in the spotlight from a young age. How did you try to keep that from changing you, or making you anything other than your best?
One thing my dad’s always emphasized with me is just being humble. That’s one thing I feel like I’ve always been, is humble. When I get done playing this game of football, I wanted to be remembered as, “He’s a guy that was always there to help, always there for his teammates, but most of all he was humble. He didn’t see himself better than others.”
That’s been a big part of me, and that’s something my dad taught me growing up. Being in the spotlight since my senior year of high school, that’s one thing I’ve always emphasized in my life.
Was there ever a time that you felt pushed to your limit and got down on yourself, or were you able to just keep going through all of it?
I think there were two big points in my life when I’ve kinda gotten down on myself. One was after my sophomore year in high school, when I really wasn’t getting any offers. I would go to camps with other kids, and I would be either more talented than them or just as talented as them, and they had offers coming in, but I didn’t.
I wanted to play college football. That was my dream, whether it was going to Ohio State or Georgia or a small Division II or Division III school. All I wanted to do was play football. The other point was after my freshman year at Georgia, where of course I had to transfer and do all that stuff. I didn’t know what was gonna happen next.
So I just had to pray, trust God, and keep working. I had to control the things that I could control. I think those two experiences prepared me for whatever may come my way later in life. I see life differently now, and I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason.
You might not know why at the time, but just know that everything happens for a reason. There’s always something better coming up in the future.
If you could go back to your junior year of high school and tell yourself one thing about how to deal with everything that was coming later, what would it be?
I would just tell myself to not worry about anything. If anything, just have that same mentality: “Everything happens for a reason.” Even though that thing might not go your way, or something might not happen the way you want it to, you just have to trust in God and keep working.
That’s the one thing I would tell myself. And another thing is the mental part of it. The mental part of not even the game of football, but the game of life, and how you think about certain situations. The way you react or the way you look at certain things can definitely affect your life, not only physically but mentally. I take my mental health very seriously, so I’m always trying to look at situations positively.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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