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ESPN.com NFL writer Bowen aims “to script stories deeper than playbooks”

Matt Bowen on NFL Insiders during the 2016 NFL Draft. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
Matt Bowen appears on ESPN’s NFL Insiders during the 2016 NFL Draft.
(Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

While there are plenty of former players on television analyzing the NFL, ESPN’s Matt Bowen is one of the few examining the game by writing regular, weekly columns.

The former sixth-round pick from Iowa played seven NFL seasons (2000-06) at defensive back with four teams. Bowen wasn’t a star and he knew his career wouldn’t last forever.

Writing from the player’s perspective allows me to pull the curtain back a bit on the NFL. The goal is to be unique, to script stories that go much deeper than playbooks.
– Matt Bowen, ESPN.com NFL writer, former NFL DB

That’s why Bowen, who fell in love with writing in high school and collected bylines writing for the The Daily Iowan, always planned ahead.

He wrote for the local newspaper in every city where he played. It allowed him to build a resume and it gave him a place to practice his writing skills. He also attended graduate school in the fall quarter after filing his NFL retirement papers, earning a master’s degree from DePaul University. Now all of that hard work is paying dividends.

Bowen, who writes weekly for ESPN.com and has a story on “The Rise of the Monsterback” in the new issue of ESPN The Magazine, speaks with Front Row about his ESPN role and more.

As a former player, what types of stories interest you?
Writing from the player’s perspective allows me to pull the curtain back a bit on the NFL. The goal is to be unique, to script stories that go much deeper than playbooks. Taking this perspective allows me to draw on my own experiences in the league or to collaborate with current players to give readers an inside look at the pro game. It’s storytelling, to a degree, with angles that parallel the current topics in the NFL. This allows us to humanize the players we watch on the field. I love that about football. There is so much more to this game than just Sundays. It’s a daily narrative. And we need to open that book.

Why did you attend grad school?
After my final year in the NFL with the Bills [2006], I started to float a bit. That’s pretty standard for all players who retire in their early-to-mid 30s. What am I going to do now? My wife, Shawn, convinced me to go for my masters. That would give me some time to figure out what path to take next. Plus, the NFL has a continuing education program, so I took advantage of that. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I started at DePaul University in 2007. I just threw myself into the writing and publishing program – awesome professors and very competitive. I needed that. It was new, challenging and the program really advanced my writing skills. Stylistics, more creative work, more literary form, essays, etc. I developed my own style, my own tone as a writer because of DePaul. And it allowed me to transition from the game.

What advice would you give NFL players about planning for their life after football?
Build a plan during your playing days. It doesn’t matter if that is business or the field or writing, lay out that plan. Because eventually, no one is going to pay you to play ball. That’s the truth.

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