When James Conner was coming into the league, before the draft, he penned an article in which he said that he didn’t want to just be ‘the football player who had cancer’. Even though he had a great college career, having been a cancer survivor had largely overshadowed the story of his football career.
Having now established himself in the NFL, including a Pro Bowl season in 2018 under his belt, he is continuing to use his platform more and more, culminating this offseason in the publication of a book, entitled Fear Is a Choice, which is largely about his experiences battling through cancer as a person and as an athlete.
In an interview with Matt Fortuna and The Athletic, Conner talked about the significance of the final chapter in the book, which is entitled ‘Play for Those Who Can’t’. While he hasn’t wanted to be forced into the label of the football player who had cancer, he has never backed away from being there for the community and for those going through the same battle. He said:
Yeah, the whole process really has taught me to be thankful. I’m blessed to call myself a survivor, and the reality behind cancer is that not everybody has the same outcome. And so for me to be in the position I am and to be able to be a survivor and still continue to do what I love, still achieve my dreams, I don’t take it for granted. And so I just want to continue. Cancer can get ugly, and not everybody has the same outcome, so I like to just play for those that aren’t able to.
‘fear is a choice’ is not new to Conner. But neither is the sentiment of playing for those who can’t. In fact, it was one of the first things that he talked about after he was drafted, which I wrote about back in May of 2017.
His story galvanized the city while he was battling cancer, and really touched the entire football community. While it never came to define him, it has and will always be a part of his story, a fact of which he is well aware and has never hid from.
Entering the final season of his rookie contract, Conner also knows that it’s a big year for him on the field. He stands to see a substantial windfall next year with whatever contract he ends up signing, and with whom, and he knows that he can do a lot of good with that as well. And he can continue to be an example to others on the field.