Ronald Moten joined the Philadelphia Eagles in the draft class of 1987.
Moten was living out a childhood dream. A sixth-round draft pick under coach Buddy Ryan, the linebacker was drafted the same year as tackle Jerome Brown, linebacker Byron Evans, and wide receiver Cris Carter.
Today, Moten is chief of detectives at the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. He’s happier than he ever was on the football field, and barely watches pro football. (Son Ron Junior, who is in middle school, does play in a local league.)
Surprised? Don’t be.
Pro athletes often fumble retirement, as depicted in the HBO show Ballers. Beset by injury and by missteps with money or family, pro athletes often end up short of their goals in life after the game.
Moten almost ended up that way – but for his decision to go back to college and find a mentor who was a judge. Through an internship at the prosecutor’s office in 1995, Moten’s career trajectory changed entirely.
“As a kid, football was my passion,” Moten says. A native of Clearwater, Fla., he won a football scholarship to the University of Florida, and was snatched up by the Eagles.
“All of a sudden, I was playing on an NFL team with guys I’d grown up admiring, like linebacker Garry Cobb. It was a huge deal.”
Early in a preseason game against the New York Jets, Moten ran downfield and recalls “tweaking my left knee and ankle. I remember the pain. That year was a wash. It was the same injury Wes Hopkins had.”
After spending time on the injured-reserve list, and then a year off trying to rehabilitate, followed by an injury to his other knee, he hung up his football cleats in 1991.
“I knew right after I got hit that my career was over. I was damaged goods.”
At 23, he was out of money and sleeping on a friend’s couch. He was working odd jobs for $5.75 an hour.
Moten had ignored warnings about life after football from the likes of Miami Dolphins’ Mercury Morris, who met with the University of Florida Gators; and Wilbert Montgomery, an Eagles Hall of Famer who is now a coach for the Cleveland Browns.
“It was humbling. Now I had to focus on life after football. I wasn’t prepared,” he says. “I had no choice. I had no degree from the University of Florida because while playing, I was far behind in my credits.”
His mother, stepfather, and six siblings had stayed in Florida. (His father was murdered when Moten was 12.) Moten’s oldest brother, James, “encouraged me to go back to college, but I didn’t have the money.”
By then, Moten was living with best friend Octavius “Ted” Reid, who had just graduated from Rutgers and was starting out as a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley.
“It was the worst time in my life,” Moten says. “I was embarrassed.”
Through Cedrick Brown, an Eagles defensive end, Moten was hired at state-run nonprofit Goals for Youth, which united former pro athletes with at-risk schoolchildren to help them finish their educations.
“I had yet to finish my degree and couldn’t practice what I preached,” Moten says. He enrolled at Rutgers-Camden and earned a degree in psychology. He still wears his 1995 graduation ring, which, he notes, most people mistake for a football ring.
“I was happier that day than the day I got drafted. I did what most players don’t do: I went back,” he says.
Reid’s father encouraged Moten to “readjust my circle of friends. I didn’t have money to hang with those football guys anymore.”
That year, Moten met State Superior Court Judge Isaiah Steinberg. “He was a huge sports fan, and he used to bring inner-city kids into his chambers and his courtroom,” Moten recalls. The judge encouraged Moten to apply at the prosecutor’s office, and “he changed my life.”
Moten was hired as an investigator at $29,000 a year. “I was so grateful. I got to wake up and put on a suit. Had it not been for Judge Steinberg, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Moten was assigned to the narcotics unit from 1997 to 2000. He spent about a decade in homicide and was promoted to sergeant in 2007, then lieutenant, supervising major crimes and child abuse units. He rose to the rank of deputy chief in 2014. And in 2015, he became chief.
“I rarely watch the professional games. I’m a fan of the game, but I spend more time watching college football,” he says.
He hears “horror stories” about football friends and opponents ending up jobless, homeless, or worse. His old teammate Andre Waters committed suicide in 2006, and others “can barely walk or are paralyzed.”
“My life is a hundred times better since leaving the NFL. I often wonder: ‘Why me? Why did I get a second chance at life?’ ”
“Everything happens for a reason,” he says. Moten now plans to retire – again – this time in 2019 as Chief Moten, with 25 years as a New Jersey state employee.
Asked whether his son will keep playing football, Moten replied: “I would encourage him to play in college, but yes, injuries can happen. And he’ll have to study, too.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20151004_New_Game_Plan.html#5G6zYAipOtJMScCQ.99