If you asked the average NFL fan who Connor Barwin is, they would probably tell you that he's a 6'4", 268 pound force to be reckoned with. They'd tell you that during his fourth year in the NFL, he racked up 44 tackles and 3 sacks while starting in all 16 regular season games for the Houston Texans. And if they know anything about the business of football, they'd be quick to note that as of today, Barwin is a free agent whose services will drum up the interest of a number of NFL teams.
What if you asked Connor Barwin to explain who he is? Connor Barwin would be quick tell you that he is more than size, power and stats. Barwin, with his tall-standing coiffed brown hair, is a man with depth that extends well beyond the football field. Yet, his motive for what drives him down the various avenues in his life is simple: community.
Webster's Dictionary defines "community" as "a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society." Growing up in Detroit, Barwin's dad, Thomas, worked as a city manager of Ferndale, MI. His father's profession taught Barwin to always look for and embrace the positive things a community offers. "I grew up to appreciate where you live -- whatever it is that is there," Barwin said.
Drafted by the Houston Texans after an impressive collegiate career at the University of Cincinnati, Barwin brought the lesson of embracing his community southbound when he moved to Texas. "My passion is football. Football is a different kind of sport. Football is so physical that you can't do it all the time. In my career, you have a lot of free time. Off the field, my biggest interest is really just being involved in the community where I live and work," Barwin said.
In Houston, Barwin found a city with a variety of cultural experiences perfectly poised to fancy any young person's delight. "In Houston, for me, it's been the food and the music," Barwin said. These days, Houston offers no shortage of opportunities when it comes to either. In recent years, media outlets including The New York Times, Essence and Travel and Leisure have commented upon Houston's rising food and music scenes.
An outgoing and charismatic person, Barwin has not only enjoyed Houston's food and music scenes, but has been embraced by both. These days, Barwin counts as friends some of Houston's top chefs and music venue managers. "I'm friends with a lot of chefs and managers who work at restaurants, because I'm always out trying to get to know those people. I wouldn't consider myself a foodie; I consider myself someone who likes eating out. There's a great community of people in Houston when it comes to restaurant owners and chefs," Barwin said. Similarly, Barwin has found a home in Houston's music community. "I've always enjoyed music. I played piano as a really young kid and took music classes in high school. I don't think I dove into the actual music scene though much until I got to Houston. Living in Houston with the kind of music community they have here, you have access to see great shows," Barwin explained.
Immersing himself in his community also means that Barwin invests his time supporting causes affecting the lives of others. Earlier this year, Barwin became the fourth NFL player to become an ambassador of Athlete Ally, an organization aimed at "encouraging all individuals involved in sports to respect every member of their communities, regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and to lead others in doing the same." On becoming an ambassador, Barwin told Athlete Ally, "My older brother is gay, and I was raised to respect and value all people. Embracing diversity is something I was always taught to do."
Similarly, Barwin has also become a champion of the environmental green movement. In 2012, Barwin moved to a downtown Houston apartment in part so that his commute to the Texans' home, Reliant Stadium, would be more environmentally friendly. After moving, Barwin's transportation to Reliant Stadium consisted of biking to the metro station, hopping on and riding the metro train and then biking three blocks to the stadium. Much to the surprise of his teammates, Barwin also traded in his truck for a Toyota Prius. Barwin's energy conservation efforts were recognized by Waste Management, who selected Barwin to be featured in a public service announcement about recycling last season.
As invested as he is in Houston's offerings, it may be tough to believe that Barwin seeks to build similar community experiences outside of Houston. However, international travel has played a large role in shaping Barwin into the involved community participant he is today. "When you get out of the country and go to different places with different cultures and different history, you get the stimulation you can't get when you're in the U.S.," he said. This off-season, Barwin brought fellow Texans player Brooks Reed on Reed's first international trip. The duo traveled through Barwin's ancestors' home of Ireland before jet-setting off to London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Madrid. Throughout their journey, Barwin and Reed marveled at historical sites like the Berlin Wall, enjoyed live music (including The Lumineers in London) and attended an Arsenal game. "My dad told me as a kid -- and I'll never forget this -- that international travel is like going to Disney World for adults. I kind of believe that, as I've traveled so much myself," Barwin explained.
At the wake of free agency, the business that is the NFL will dictate which of the NFL's 32 communities Barwin calls home next season. Barwin's outspoken passion for the Houston community is so great, that the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau tapped him to be a spokesperson for an upcoming national ad campaign highlighting the city. Love for Houston and its communities aside, Barwin recognizes that he soon may be digging roots in a new community. "All football players, myself included, are just normal people. I enjoy the same things everyone else does: Good music, good food and good weather. There are a lot of other parts of life to enjoy and I try to enjoy myself in everything I do. If I end up somewhere else, I'll find plenty of good things."