When the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a 2003 “Where are they now?” feature on Alan Veingrad’s life after the NFL, it would have been natural to assume that the former offensive lineman was perfectly satisfied with his life.
The article noted how Veingrad — a member of the Super Bowl champion 1992 Dallas Cowboys — had lost 60 pounds since retiring from the NFL, had begun a successful business career, and was spending time fishing, kayaking and playing with his young children.
But what could easily have been seen as a description of a pleasant life was in fact a wakeup call to Veingrad.
“I felt like I had a pretty shallow existence,” he said. “I felt like I was missing something. There was no meaning.”
Veingrad eventually found that meaning in Hassidic Judaism. After growing up culturally Jewish but not observant, the 48-year-old Veingrad now goes by the name “Shlomo,” keeps kosher and attends shul just about every day.
He will talk about his rediscovery of Judaism and his pro football career on Monday, May 21 during the final installment of the “Jews in Sports” lecture series organized and funded by the Chabad of Greater South Bay at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.
Chabad is hoping to draw 100 people to Veingrad’s talk, after about 40 people showed up to hear each of the series’ first two guests: boxer Dmitriy Salita in January and basketball star Tamir Goodman in March. Salita is a successful welterweight who beat the odds as an Orthodox immigrant in the boxing world; Goodman was a high school standout who turned down one college scholarship because the team wanted him to play on Shabbat.
Veingard plans to talk about how, regardless of how much one accomplishes, one must lead a religious life to find meaning and purpose.
“I did things people would consider a tremendous accomplishment,” he said. “But in order to have a life that’s fulfilled, we all need to have a relationship with God.”
Veingrad’s journey to becoming an observant Jew began when a cousin invited him to attend a weekly Torah class. It was two years after he retired from a seven-year NFL career, five with the Green Bay Packers and two with the Cowboys.
“After one class, I realized that Torah is truly not a 2,000-year-old story or a history lesson. It is meaningful and purposeful,” he said. “I started to think about a life that was not dictated by a house or the golf club membership.”
He, his wife and three children then began a transition to an observant Jewish life. They became more involved in their synagogue, kept kosher, the children attended Hebrew day school and, after Veingrad read the “Where are they now?” article, the family kept a Sabbath-observant lifestyle.
Veingrad and his family live in Boca Raton, Fla., where Veingrad works as a financial and insurance strategist for MassMutual Financial Group. He also does many engagements as a motivational speaker.
One of those will be with a Jewish sports touring business he co-founded, Kosher Sports Experience, which will host a weekend Shabbaton around the 49ers-Packers game in Green Bay, Wis., on Sept 9. The Sept. 7-10 event will include religious study, a kosher menu, tours and tickets to the game at Lambeau Field. Veingrad said the theme of the event will be “comparing a sports life to a religious life.”
Veingrad, who was an average high school player who wasn’t recruited by big-name universities, connects his hard work on the football field to his commitment to observant Judaism.
“It’s sometimes hard for people to make that transformation [to a religious life],” Veingrad said. “It wasn’t hard for me. You need the same exact drive to be successful in football as you need to be a Jew.”
After his college career at East Texas University, Veingrad went undrafted in 1986 and was cut by two teams. He then earned a spot on the Packers roster and started every game on the offensive line that season. Listed at 6-foot-5, 277 pounds in those days, he played for the Packers until 1990 and then for the Cowboys for two seasons before retiring at the age of 29 after winning a Super Bowl ring. In his final season, he started one game and played in 11.
Veingrad had another year on his contract and probably could have lasted a few more years in the NFL when he retired, but he decided it was, as he put it, time to stop “breaking [his] body.”
In retrospect, Veingrad called this decision “divinely inspired,” explaining that players who continue to play a few extra years often end up with serious health problems. He called the issue of head injuries, which has garnered a lot of attention recently, “a concern for my own life, for my teammates and for the current players.”
On another hot-button issue in the world of sports, the prevalence of religious displays by athletes — most notably by the NFL’s Tim Tebow — Veingrad believes that many athletes have these devout religious beliefs because their success helps them appreciate a higher power.
“Players that get to the NFL, many of whom come from tough environments, realize that to appreciate great things you have to have a relationship with God,” he said.
“Jews in Sports: Alan ‘Shlomo’ Veingrad,” 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 21 at the Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $15. www.chabadgsb.com or (650) 424-9800. Information about the Sept. 7-10 Shabbaton in Green Bay: www.ksetours.com.