It’s almost too fitting that A.J. Green, the Bengals superstar of few words, would surmise the base of his character and identity with one word: Work.
That was the title of his latest submission to The Players Tribune, which was published on Wednesday. In it, Green narrated a few stories of his childhood and past that explains a lot about how he became the consummate professional he’s been over the past decade in Cincinnati.
After a rough first practice as a freshman for Georgia, Green called his mom for support. Her response was, as Green put it, very matter-of-fact:
“No, A.J., It’s not. It’s not hard. It’s what you love. You just had a tough day. That’s life. Instead of getting down about it … push through. Tomorrow’s a new day. You will be fine.”
Before she even finished, I knew she was right. Completely right.
“Everyone has bad days, A.J. Not every day is going to be perfect. But don’t try to tell me this is too hard, or that you can’t do it. It’s work. Treat it like that. It’s not meant to be easy.”
Before hanging up, my mom told me to go and work my butt off every day, and said that if I did, she promised that I’d have more good days than bad.
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. It’s stuck with me ever since. And now, 12 years and a bunch of Pro Bowls later … here we are.
Green’s mother and father were full-time workers for the vast majority of Green’s life. The way he so bluntly describes his childhood with his parents, it was hard for him to avoid it. But we can all picture a young Green helping out with his dad’s second job after school and then helping around his grandmother’s house after that.
Once Green was old enough to get a job of his own, he eventually ended up with two. One of them, as he put it, “wasn’t quite as legit” as his father’s second occupation.
At my school, you were allowed to leave for lunch if you had your own car, but most seniors didn’t have access to a vehicle. So that’s where I came in, with my two-door 1996 Ford Escort.
My business wasn’t complicated: $20 and you can take my car for lunch.
That was the whole enterprise.
A few people could pool their money, or it could be one person going all-in. It didn’t matter to me. As long as I got that $20. And, man, let me tell you … I bought so many pairs of sneakers by combining my Steve & Barry’s paycheck with my car-rental money.
A true self-starting entrepreneur. Of course, Green’s parents didn’t know how he was making so much extra cash, but they do now!
Green concluded his piece with a touching salute to all the essential workers that have been working business as usual despite the COVID-19 pandemic raging on. For someone with the background and track record to prove it, Green’s words have definite meaning to them.
His work backs them up.