Featuring six speakers, TEDxBinghamtonUniversity is centered around “breaking barriers and trailblazing forward toward a new future.” Pipe Dream spoke to Johnny Stanton IV, a professional football player and owner of Crimson Herald, a game publishing company. A fullback who has played for the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns, he is also an avid Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) player and hopes to encourage others to pursue both professional success and their passions. His interview responses have been edited for clarity.

Q: The theme for this year’s TEDx event is Odyssey. How will your talk cover this theme of overcoming obstacles in your own “odyssey?”

A: “My whole speech is about the adversity that had to go through, [which] I personally think is not far off from most other [National Football League (NFL)] players’ journeys or [those of] professional athletes, professional singers, whatever. The adversity that I’ve gone through, even though it is personal to me, speaks to a larger experience that people have. That’s what I’m hoping to be able to accomplish by matching with the Odyssey theme and allowing for this hero’s journey idea to be much more accepted by a lot of different people.”

Q: How does your story connect with other people?

A: “I was really excited about preparing for this thing because I wanted to be able to give this speech to as many people as possible. And while I didn’t get to give it to that many people, the main opportunity I got to give it to some friends was last Saturday, [and] by the end, a couple of my friends were tearing up. Because yes, my speech uses football as a framing device, but it also speaks to the larger idea of becoming a well-rounded person by surrounding yourself with the stuff that you love, the passions that you have and using the time that you have to prioritize that as well.”

Q: How has your time as a professional fullback influenced your talk?

A: “I start off my speech with a story from high school football, [which] you could think of as like my lowest point. It was the first time I ever had a season-ending injury — I tore my ACL in my senior year of high school. And I talk about that being the point at which I realized that I had to kind of work on myself outside of football. I got to a point where I was having an identity crisis my senior year of high school, because when you grow up only identifying as an athlete, who are you when that gets taken away? There [were] just like a million different things that I have time for the first time in my life to work on outside of football, [so] what can I work on?

Then, I finish the story with what you could think of as the high point of my football career, which was scoring a touchdown in 2021. Surrounding that is also the experience that I had outside of my football career. I talked about [how] I was building my brand out of these two separate demographics of D&D nerds and NFL fans. And when I scored that touchdown, the most exciting part was the fact that the D&D nerds were such a big part of the congratulatory celebration there. That was really the culmination of bringing those two things together.”

Q: You’ve created your own D&D publishing company. What is the process for that?

A: “It’s called Crimson Herald, [and] we’ve now announced our first major project, [which] is going to be on Kickstarter this year, a D&D Fifth Edition new rule set module/storybook campaign setting, called [SINK!], because it brings together pirates and tattoos. We have our good friend and collaborator on the project, Sam Rusk, who is a really great tattoo artist who brings D&D into her main work. So we [wanted] to take advantage of her art style, which aligns itself really well with pirates, and get this really cool art style and this cool setting around it that we’re really excited about. So it’s all kind of building up into a Kickstarter this September, which we’re hoping is very successful.”

Q: Your profile on the TED mentions you’re working to break barriers down for LGBTQ+ athletes. Could you elaborate on this?

A: “This is another thing that actually started from me getting injured. In 2018, I was recovering from my broken ankle when I was with the Minnesota Vikings. Going through physical therapy, I was actually able to train alongside a number of athletes, one of [whom] was involved with this group called Athlete Ally, which is an organization that I fell in love with immediately. Their mission is very specifically [about] uplifting and helping athletes who are in the LGBTQ community, and it actually was started by a straight guy who wanted an avenue to be able to show his allyship. And I thought that was really great and [I] really wanted to be able to show that as well.

I’ve been able to do a lot of cool work with them, especially in Cleveland [with] the LGBTQ community center over there. It’s a very cool organization that I think [does] a lot of good work, especially nowadays, when there are new laws that they’re fighting against and PR that they’re having to help out with. I think they do a really good job.”

Q: Is there anything you would like to talk about that we haven’t touched on in this interview?

A: “I have this podcast coming up called Athletics Check, [which is] bringing together the world of American sports. It’s alternating episodes in which I’m talking to people in the nerd community — voice actors, singers, sometimes just writers, whatever — about their background in sports or their relationship with sports, even if they don’t have one. And then I’m talking to athletes or people surrounding the sports community — radio hosts, coaches, whoever I can get my hands on — about their passions outside of sports or what they are a nerd about. Everybody’s a nerd about something, everybody’s passionate about something.”

Q: What do you want BU students to take away from your talk?

A: “In the speech, I have this line, ‘We shouldn’t allow our pursuit of success to overshadow our pursuit of our passions.’ And for one, that can align. I hope that people are able to pursue success through pursuing their passion. But [your] fulfillment needs to come from more than one source or else you could very easily burn out. I am very passionate about football. But if I were to expend all of my energy and all of my time into that, I would have burnt out in college probably.

I think that it’s important to make sure that you’re working on skills outside of your major passion, your major goal that you’re trying to pursue. Because there are roadblocks that are going to keep you from taking the straight-line path. When you get knocked off that course, you’re going to have to adapt. You’re going to have to rely on other skill sets that you’ve had to build up. And you can still be facing in the same direction but maybe in a different lane. And being in a different lane, you have to rely on some other skills that you will have needed to develop already to keep on the same path at the same speed.”