What kind of impact can a high school nickname have? “Sweet Feet” James White shares his story and advice for coping with life’s unexpected challenges.
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00:11 - 00:32
Hi everyone and welcome to the big stage where we talk to athletes, artists and entertainers about their lives and impact. I'm your host, Adam Sansiveri Bernstein, managing director and co-lead of sports and entertainment. Joining me today is one of my Bernstein teammates and former NFL defensive back the awesome Cody Riggs. Thanks for being here Cody.
00:32 - 00:33
Better to be here Adam.
00:33 - 01:26
So I am thrilled to welcome New England Patriots running back and all around beloved team member James White to the show today. James is a three time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots. Since 2015, James leads all NFL running backs with 376 receptions and 25 receiving touchdowns. In 2018, he set the team record for a running back with 87 receptions for 751 yards and tied the team mark with seven touchdowns. James set Super Bowl records with 14 receptions and 20 total points, including the game winning touchdown run in overtime to clinch the victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51. James is the father of two kids below the age of three and a longtime friend of Cody's. Thanks so much for joining us on the big stage today. It's great to connect with you, James.
01:26 - 01:29
I appreciate you having me. Big love, a great conversation.
01:29 - 01:44
I think we will. So you and Cody went to high school together and were teammates at the time. So my first question is actually for Cody Cody any fun high school memories our listeners would want to hear about? James You know, we all love to reminisce.
01:44 - 02:07
Adam You put me in a tough spot here. When winning a national championship is up there. Then there's, you know, your typical is there's proms, there's homecomings, there's the nights that we had out. But if I had to choose one, it would probably be our group project. And James is going to laugh about this, where we made a music video for a project and word has it. Our teacher still shows that video to this day and it's absolutely hilarious.
02:07 - 02:11
Wow. Give us a little bit more detail. What was the music video?
02:11 - 02:18
So we re remade a song by was it T-Pain and Ace Hood? And we made a music video for the book Beowulf.
02:19 - 02:20
02:20 - 02:25
Yeah, we had these closing credits. We were just like freestyle dance, and it was hilarious.
02:26 - 02:28
That's great. Thanks for sharing that, Cody.
02:28 - 02:51
So, James, let's start at the beginning. Okay. So you went to Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. A lot of your teammates went on to play for the NFL, obviously, including the both of you. And while you played in high school, your team won two state championships. So just how big a deal was high school football in Fort Lauderdale? Because it sounds a bit like Friday Night Lights to me.
02:51 - 03:38
Is a huge deal, not even to high schools. As Little League as were like growing up, I didn't I didn't know Cody very well growing up, you know, when I was in elementary school, middle school. But you hear about each other playing at different parks. We never got to compete against each other because I was a little bit heavier as a kid than he was. So I had I had to play up in Little League. But, you know, you always hear the you know, the better players, their names. You hear them all throughout the rumblings, throughout all the South Florida, like who's good, who's the fastest player, who's going to be the star high school? And football is such a huge deal down there. And it just so happened that some of us compete against each other. Some of us didn't ended up going to St Thomas and we ended up forming a really talented team and we were able to win a few championships and we formed some special relationships as well.
03:38 - 04:01
. Like I said, me and Cody still talk today. We joke around with some of our, you know, high school friends to this day. And, you know, those are some of the funnest times of your life. You know, sometimes you wish you could turn back and you know how high school you what you're ready to get out of high school and you get out of high school. You ready? I wish. I wish I still has a few more years of high school. So it's definitely some some fun times. And I said stuff you remember forever.
04:01 - 04:05
And that's great. Well, for the rest of us, those high school memories are the glory days.
04:05 - 04:29
But the big news for you is that you're on the way back for your ninth season with the Patriots. Fans will know that in your third game of last season, their 2021 season, you suffered a terrible hip injury that brought your season to an abrupt end. And I read that for 3 to 4 months you couldn't even put on your own shoes or socks. So how does it feel to be going back into the game for your ninth season?
04:29 - 04:56
It's definitely a completely different feel for me because I've been blessed and fortunate, never really sustained any serious injury from Little League all the way until this point. And to finally get one and drag it like the the most crazy thing I could possibly get. But it definitely was a challenge for me, you know, not being able to really move around very effectively and having two little kids at home a lot was kind of put on my wife.
04:56 - 05:35
. So a lot of credit goes to her because she she went through a lot over these past, you know, five, six months, you know, having to take a load or put both kids, the baby, the both of the kids. And I'm just sitting. Downstairs. Lang Lang on a little sofa bed. You know, you give her a lot of credit. But this year has definitely been a challenge for me in the past few years have been a challenge for me, you know, getting her and the previous season not really doing too much, not really having too much success. So I'm excited to have an opportunity especially come back here because you know, the sustaining of injury like that, you know, a lot of times teams may not want you and blessed and fortunate that, you know, Bill.
05:35 - 05:56
Mr. Crabbe they wanted me back and I said, I'm just pushing myself to make sure I feel as best as possible. So whenever I do step out on the field, I can perform at a high level. James I'm wishing you a speedy recovery and I'm sure you'll be back to your old self. I know this road to recovery hasn't been easy and everyone has had to or will have to overcome obstacles in one way or another.
05:56 - 06:53
With that in mind, can you offer any tips on how you kept your mental strength up and rebuilt your confidence when you were feeling your lowest recovery? And what what perspective have you gained over the last couple of years? For me, it is taking it day by day. You know, honestly, when I first got hurt, you couldn't tell me I'd be back playing football again, you know, not being able to walk and move around. I was like, I can't even walk like that. I can't even imagine being able to run and get tackled and all that stuff again. So I'm just taking it day by day and, you know, taking some time to myself with my family. I think that was some time that I really needed to kind of sit back, take a, you know, perspective on my life in general, attack the rehab process just to make sure, you know, I feel good and not really feeling all the bumps and bruises and all the things that nature. And I think as the process went on, I started to sort of feel like myself, you know, maybe I can kind of give this thing a try. And I think for anybody going through there, anything, I think you just take it day by day.
06:53 - 07:24
. You know, we always talk about foundation on our team, having a solid foundation. When everything gets torn down, you got to have something that you're going to be able to fall back on. Everybody's foundation is going to be some divot, some guys are going to be money, some guys are going to be families analyzing me, their wife, the brother who knows? Having somebody to talk to, something to read the Bible, a book. You never know really what is going to be the define your foundation, whatever that is. And I think when everything else gets knocked down, you always have that one thing that you can turn to, another kind of help you lift your spirit.
07:24 - 07:59
. So that's for me, it's been like my father, my family, that's it being hurt. I think that nature that was that was cool. I can, you know, feel sorry for myself, but I still got two kids running around in my house that need to be taken care of. I still got a wife at home. She needs her needs met as well. So it's not just about me anymore. I'm not here by myself. So for me, that kind of helped my mind. You know, kind of get off of football, obviously was still a thing about football injury and watching my team and all this stuff that kind of distracted me a little bit and I think helped me throughout my recovery process. That's great stuff.
07:59 - 08:28
On a lighter note, James, could you give us and our listeners some background on how you got your sweeping nickname? I got it from our high school creative writing teacher. Did you have Mr. Lomo, too? I had Mr. Alema. Yeah. So I asked you to be like little senior Skip. He just threw like James Sweet Ft. White. They don't even know the whole I don't really remember how the whole senior skip thing went, but he narrated it and whatnot. I honestly didn't really pay too much attention to it, but it still stuck in the back of my mind.
08:28 - 09:11
. And then when I saw my agency coming out of college and I had my Twitter handle, they said, you probably should change it to something, you know, something different and whatnot. And that's like the first thing that rang to my mind was the sweet V nickname that Mr. Loma mentioned in the the senior Skip. And that's what I put in there. At first it was like Sweet V White or whatever, something like that. And then everybody loved it and I still kind of love it. So I just took it and ran with and made a brand out of it. My foundation's named after it and it's no time to call me that all the time, like some coaches call me that. So it's, it's pretty cool. It's kind of weird sometimes not being called by your name, being called by a nickname, but it's a pretty cool thing I said and been able to kind of capitalize on as well.
09:12 - 09:43
I hope. Mr. Loehmann's, listen to this episode. You know, it's awesome to hear when teachers from our childhood have that big of an impact that carries through into your future years. So thanks for sharing that. You know, you've said it was an easy decision for you to go back to the Patriots. And I saw a fan comment online recently proclaiming you to be on their Mt. Rushmore of Patriots that that sentiment has to mean a lot to you. So to have such loyal fans, what has that support men? And did that support factor in your decision to go back to the Patriots?
09:43 - 10:06
Well, it definitely meant something for them to, like I said, want me back, especially after this injury. We have one of the best fan bases of, you know, the NFL and their dedicated Foxborough is not a not a big place. And everybody loves the Patriots. If you were a patriot, dear, you know, like it's a college town here in Foxborough and everybody loves their team. And for them, you know, won and for me to have a speedy.
10:06 - 10:57
Recovery, healthy recovery and hoping to see you back on the field. Definitely play a little bit of a part. And why is it being able to play in one place for, you know, nine years yet? Three or four years? This doesn't happen that often. You know, guys, you get released, get injured, things of that nature. So to be able to be here for my ninth season is something I don't take for granted. But a lot of great relationships and partners in the organization but in the community, I think that plays a factor too. I said, I've been able to do a lot of community work here, get to know a lot of people. My brother in law just moved here, like to be by us as well. There's a lot of stuff has gone on here. It's a special place. It's home for, you know, my wife and my kids, you know, my son. He started like we're different states and being that media like Boston, we go to Boston like stuff like that. So it's a special place and I'm excited to still be here.
10:57 - 11:01
That's great. What are you most looking forward to about the season ahead?
11:02 - 11:28
For me, I'm just looking forward to just attacking this rehab process. Still, it's been a long recovery still, and it's taking taking it day by day, pushing myself to feel my best and be my best when I step out there. And I'm also excited to get back in that locker room after I got here to have my surgery a few weeks later, I took off to Illinois to do my rehab there. I got referred to back there, but he did a great job of getting me back on track. But I'm excited to get back with the guys.
11:28 - 12:10
. And Tony, I tell you, like being in the locker room is one of the coolest things in the world. You have guys from all over the country, different ideas, different music they listen to from different places. And this, it's a unique and unique place to be. It can be very weird. It can be very cool. It goes from one extreme to the next, but it's there's a special place and I've built a lot of good friendships there and excited, you know, just play my role, whatever it is to help my team win football games. Yeah, you're kind of forced to have these relationships with people. You wouldn't otherwise have relationships with them, though it may not be a coping set in the beginning, it works itself out. You have these beautiful relationships that you have in the end. I'm looking forward to the season as well.
12:10 - 12:35
James I'm excited for you, but I wanted to talk about a few of your other passions besides football. They include video games, shoes, but this show is about legacy and impact. So let's talk about philanthropy first, since that's something you care a lot about. You and your wife. Diana recently started the Sweetpea Foundation, which provides scholarships and resources for underprivileged youth and college students. Can you tell us more about the foundation and why this cause is near and dear to you both?
12:36 - 13:23
Yes, we just started this foundation last year. I mean, we've always talked about starting a foundation. I mean, it took us quite a while to figure out what exactly we want to do. I just graduated recently, not too long ago, so that played a factor in it. And my wife needed like this type of assistance for her to make it through college and that played a part in it to just find something that meant a lot to the both of us. And I know for me, I left a semester early to go to the NFL and I always promised my parents and I would get my degree because that's the main reason you go to college to get your degree. And I also know how important it is to get an education in America and how hard it is to afford a college education in America as well. So just to, you know, play a little part in somebody's life, not just give them the money, but thing that played a factor for us.
13:23 - 14:12
. I think trying to get to know the kids as well. We were to give out two scholarships last year and this year. We've been trying to figure out whether we want to give two or three more scholarships to new people or like help those same people, you know, finish their college career. So that's kind of like where we're at right now. I know obviously helping somebody one time is good, but to know kind of help them finish the whole deal because they probably need financially still to finish their college career. So that's where we're at with it right now with the foundation trying to figure out should we help like the same person finish or help a couple of new people. So there's a lot of stuff that we can do to help each other in this world. And I just want to play my part and do whatever I can to help, you know, especially the younger generation, achieve their goals. That's that's great stuff. I'm sure the people of Boston and New England are extremely grateful for the work you've done there.
14:12 - 14:57
Now, outside of what we just mentioned, are there other causes that you stand behind and support as well? Oh, for sure. I work with Best Buddies. I've done a few events with them, helping with people who have disabilities, help them support themselves, get jobs, think they need to feel confident. And that's something that I necessarily wasn't passionate about, but is something that I was I think my my uncle, he worked at a building down in Miami, and it was the same like headquarters, his best buddies down in Miami. That's how I first got connected with it. And it just so happened that Tom was already doing events with them at the time too. Yeah, like a flag football game where they played in the flag football game for some of us. On the team playing the flag football game as well. So I think that was one of the first events I did.
14:57 - 15:35
. And after that, you know, I did a few events on my own with them and this is such a cool thing just to see how confident those people with disabilities are because they're just as important to the world. Guys like myself and for them to be able to get jobs and feel like they're needed in this world, which they are, is it just really cool to have organizations like that? And I think that's a really cool part about being the NFL. You may find things that you may not necessarily have been passionate about at first. You may find something else that's very interesting and very helpful to someone that you may not have ever, ever known about if you had not played the NFL or met this one person here.
15:35 - 16:24
So this has been so cool to see. And I've also partnered with the Boston Medical Center here. I did event it was previously called the Mayo Bowl and one from Gerard Mayo. He was a linebacker that played for the Patriots. And then once he retired, they transitioned into me. We call it Sweet Reaper Strikes, and I did that for about three years where we raised money for for them, which they provide health care to no less fortunate people who can't afford health care. And I've gone to the hospital. My wife actually, she had came up with an idea a few years ago, like every time around Christmas to get toys to bring to the kids there. You know, during Christmas time, the kids that are stuck there in the hospital. So, I mean, we just try and do all different types of things to stay involved and just try to make a little bit of a difference. It doesn't have to be anything crazy. We just want to do our part.
16:24 - 16:28
And that's great to hear. James And that's what this show is all about. So thank you for sharing that.
16:28 - 16:37
Let's let's turn to this love of shoes. Is it is it fair to call you a sneaker head? Because I'm assuming we're not talking about loafers here.
16:38 - 17:14
Yeah, you can you can call me a sneaker head. I love shoes. I think they are stars. Since I was young, my dad, we were blessed and fortunate for our parents to be able to provide shoes for us whenever we needed them. One of my brothers, kind of the one who really got me into it the most when he was in high school. He knew, like all the Jordan release days become at home with all these different shoes and and all that stuff. But I don't really pay too much attention at that point. I knew about George. My dad would get me George in the East Bay magazine. I like look through it and it won't be easy, but I know that he'll get them like a few weeks later or for Christmas or or something like that.
17:14 - 17:52
. And I think once I got to high school, the thing that really got me started were kind of like collecting shoes with the space jam 11 my, my senior year of high school. And then my brother was in town during like his Christmas break from college. He said, like our lady shoes are releasing Advent to our mall. I like it like this time. So me, him and my cousin Keenan, who Cody knows very well, we went to a mall, was like hundreds of hundreds of people outside the mall waiting outside for him to open the doors. And as soon as they opened the door there, I bum rushing into the store to get the foot locker, to get in line, to get tickets, to get the shoes.
17:52 - 18:16
Me and my cousin, we we didn't really know how it worked. My brother had been doing this for a while so he knew like some back door to go to. So he was like first in line and able to get all of us to shoes. So that was like the first shoe that kind of like got me started were like collecting all this stuff. I actually still have like that pair from, from 2000 to 2009. Whatever was when they released, they're pretty beat up. But I still hold on to that's kind of what got my collecting stuff.
18:17 - 18:18
That's really cool.
18:18 - 18:29
You've mentioned that you'd eventually love to tie this passion for shoes into the Sweet Feet Foundation. That sounds like a great idea. So do you have a vision yet of what that would entail?
18:29 - 18:56
I have a little bit of an a vision, but I don't know how to actually put it into play. And I need to talk with the people to figure out how to actually do it. But just to be able to find a way to get shoes, like brand new shoes, like I'm sure there's some kid out there who wants that pair, George, that's releasing on Saturday that can't get him. He wants to be like somebody else in the school that they see or be like their favorite athlete that they see this find a way to bridge that gap and get those to them.
18:56 - 19:49
. I know having shoes and clothes is a part of confidence for kids, especially going to school, because sometimes kids can be pretty judgmental to others. So just find a way to do that. I think that would be kind of a stepping stone. I know Cody said he knew somebody that worked for souls. For souls. So I talked to him about possibly connecting with him because that's kind of like a similar vision that I would have. So just trying to find a way to kind of put that emotion to tie something that I'm passionate about and to into the youth. And I'm sure those kids are passionate about it as well. They just don't have the finances to necessarily get into it. So I think that would just be a really cool idea. Love it. Yeah, I agree. I agree. Adam, we'll have to get you on the sweet, sweet hashtag. Let's get Jake Fridays in. It is Friday, we think Friday and people post their shoes and and James repost it for anybody who post it with the hashtag.
19:49 - 20:31
So now James, top of mind for a lot of athletes is a transition plan for when they retire. I went through it after playing with Tampa and pursued work in the finance industry, which eventually led me here to Bernstein. I know the last year had you in a headspace thinking about your future as well. What do you think you'll do after football? For me. I have a few ideas. Like I said, it can take time to actually figure out what you want to do, as you know. I'm thinking about the possibility of broadcast and doing something in radio and maybe opening up my own shoe store or working for a shoe company like Adidas, Nike, or something of that nature. Or maybe even coaching. Just those hours were coaching are pretty great. So I don't know if I exactly want to get into that yet with my kids.
20:31 - 20:57
Me. And so yeah, I want to be there for those moments and all that stuff to be able to go to their sporting events or dance recital as well as stuff. So I have a few different ideas. I'm just trying to get on my agent right now and kind of, you know, reach out and network just to see what's available for me and find something that I'm truly passionate about. So I don't have too much time off. Whenever I do decide to retire, I can get into something and start doing so.
20:58 - 21:16
Well, I think our listeners would agree you've got a voice for broadcasting, so let's let's see what happens, you know. So, James, we're coming to the end of our show, and we always like to ask our listeners one big question What's the best financial advice you've ever received?
21:16 - 21:50
Best financial advice I've ever received from my dad. It's simple. Just save your money for a rainy day. Use your money that you need for your daily expenses and just put the rest aside. Don't have too much debt. I mean, if you can, I know some people there's different situations for everybody with taking out loans and everything. Just try to limit your debt. Just live within your means as well. I know I'm fortunate to have, you know, more money than the average person that I try to live under my means. I mean, that's how I try to live is not make too many purchases and make sure there's more money coming in and going out.
21:50 - 21:59
And that's some great advice. Great advice. Well, James Cody, thanks so much for being with us on the big stage today.
21:59 - 22:01
Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me, Adam.
22:02 - 22:21
Thank you all for listening. This has been the big stage. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to subscribe, please go to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Please email us with your thoughts, questions and any feedback to insights at Bernstein dot com and be sure to find us on Twitter and Instagram at Bernstein. P.W.