A professional football player for fourteen years, Bart Oates has won three Super Bowls, been in the Pro Bowl four times, practiced law for several years, and has even been a broadcaster for NBC. His life is a series of accomplishments in many arenas. He never missed a game in his career, and has the second most consecutive starts of any New York Giant. He is a family man whose religious commitment, honesty and morality play key roles in all of his decisions. He recently visited a Drew writing class for an interview with the students.
Oates' presence in the classroom is a powerful one. At 6'4" and 239 pounds, he is not particularly big for an offensive lineman, especially since he dropped 50 pounds after retiring. At 39, Oates has been out of the game for two years, but still works out and keeps himself in good shape. His neat hair and well tailored suit allude to his former career as a lawyer and to his current status in commercial real estate. His deep voice resonated in the small room, and his easygoing personality and sense of humor showed through often during the interview. When asked about the large, flashy Super Bowl ring on his finger, he said he rarely wears the ring but "happened to have it in the car." Though he mentions his devotion to his wife and children several times, he's not wearing a wedding ring. He explains that his fingers have been smashed up too many times for it to fit.
Oates grew up in Albany, GA, in a large Mormon family. He received a football scholarship to Brigham Young University in Utah, where he was a three-year starter. He earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from BYU and went on to earn a law degree from Seton Hall in 1990.
Oates was drafted by the United States Football League in 1982, and played in Philadelphia and Baltimore with the Stars for three years, winning two championships and earning all-pro honors during his final two seasons. He joined the Giants in 1985 and began his streak of 127 consecutive starts. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants and then joined the San Francisco 49ers for two years, winning another Super Bowl before retiring in 1996. He earned four starts in the Pro Bowl and was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate twice.
Oates emphasized his commitment to education frequently throughout the course of the interview. In college, he originally intended football to be solely a means of scholarship to support his schooling. He said he always enjoyed learning and considers himself an overachiever. While he liked football, he found it "mentally stifling" and said that "school was always refreshing." His eagerness to learn, he explained, was his motivation for continuing his education even after becoming a professional player. He went to night classes and studied during the off-season for several years to get his law degree. He described himself as "a nerd who played football." Chuckling, Oates said that "if school paid, I would be a professional student."
"What's motivated me in my life is a fear of failure," he explained. While he has no regrets, saying that in football he "accomplished so much," he also said that in his 14 years of playing football, he rarely enjoyed a game. The immense mental pressures to win made it impossible to relax while playing. He explained that the players can not just play, but have to follow intricate rules and detailed plans. He was able to better relax later in his career, though, for "probably the last three or four games," he said, laughing again.
Oates' devotion to his religion parallels his commitment to education. He underplayed his spirituality but it runs through many important decisions in his life. As a Mormon, he took a two-year break from school for a mission in Nevada and Arizona. This was a tough decision for him, as he knew it could upset his football plans, but he decided it was too important to miss. He described the experience as helping to "change the focus of your life to service and to helping other people." The discipline and work ethic involved have helped Oates in his other careers. A good example of this commitment can be found in one of his proudest accomplishments - the fact that he has never missed a game. He explained this is a rarity in football, with probably less than one percent of players having perfect attendance.
Another example of Oates' sense of morality and honesty involved his switch from the Giants to the 49ers in 1994. Oates was under financial strain as a backup with the Giants but wanted to stay with them. However, he began looking at other deals and eventually threatened to quit the Giants. The Giants didn't change their offer, so Oates signed with San Francisco. Finally realizing he was serious, the Giants countered with a better offer than San Francisco's. Since Oates had already made a commitment to the 49ers, he felt he had to join them. "I had a moral obligation," he explained. Even though New York offered more money, Oates signed with San Francisco and eventually went on to win a Super Bowl with them.
When asked if his sense of morality was ever compromised by rowdiness and vulgarity among his colleagues, he said that it was never really a problem. Having been involved with broadcasting - Oates worked for NBC in 1996 but found it "fake and uninteresting" - he is sympathetic to the media but mentioned his disapproval of common negative stereotypes against football players. According to Oates, every team he was on had a great attitude and team spirit and was fun to work with. He explained that some teams place more importance on good citizenship, while others only emphasize winning. However, "I think you can do both," he argued, describing football as the "ultimate team sport" and stressing that the most important aspect of the game is functioning as a team.
Oates related several football anecdotes during the interview. "You know how some people say that getting hit isn't as bad as it looks on TV?" he asked. "Well, they're wrong." He said he's never had what he considers to be a major injury, calling his fourteen surgeries "maintenance." Oates demonstrated the strength of the players and the seriousness of injuries by recalling one time when he was picked up by Reggie White and thrown on top of Phil Simms. To contrast the more dangerous aspects of the game, he also mentioned that most of the players he has worked with are fun and adventurous, often pulling pranks while off the field. According to Oates, the coaches are even crazier. "Those guys...they're maniacs!"
Oates donates much of his time to charitable organizations, but said he gets more enjoyment out of personal, hands-on work than lending his image or name to advertising. He was the United Way spokesman for the Giants and is currently involved with Scouting, where he teaches such merit badge-worthy skills as physical fitness and swimming. "I've always gotten more enjoyment out of the one-on-one approach," he explained.
Now that he's retired from football, Oates spends most of his free time with his family. He and his wife Michelle live in Harding with their three children. His cerebral and athletic sides seem to be recurring in his two sons - Oates' older son, Derek, enjoys sports and football, while his younger son, Zack, is more into reading and enjoys music. Oates spends his spare time supporting both at games and concerts and also taking care of his young baby girl.
Explaining that he liked the academic aspect of law but didn't like the "grind" of being a lawyer, he stopped practicing law after five years. Oates is currently involved in commercial real estate, working for Gale & Wentworth in Florham Park.