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NFL Player Trades Football for Life on the Open Road

A former American footballer and a travel blogger Joe Hawley lives with less to experience more. This free-spirited sportsman travels around in his car with his best friend Freedom to pursue a search of a new path. They are exploring different regions, meeting new people and enjoying every second of it.

Joseph Kelly Hawley who played for the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League (NFL) was drafted by the Falcons with the 117th pick in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. After spending eight years in the NFL Hawley retired when he became a free agent in 2018.

Hawley moved out of his Tampa apartment and donated most of his belongings to charity Metropolitan Ministries of Tampa Bay. He sold his Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe and purchased a 2007 Ford E-350 cargo van. He shed almost 50 pounds on an unusual diet that has him putting slices of butter in his coffee. He adopted a 2-year-old boxer mix from a shelter and aptly named her “Freedom.”  He departed the Tampa Bay area on April 5, 2018, and now, he drives around the country and lives out of his van — meeting new people, exploring different regions and blogging about the journey on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter using the handle “ManVanDogBlog”.

Joe Hawley considers himself very blessed for having lived a child’s dream of playing in the NFL. Hawley says that It’s easy to fell in love with the competition, the physicality and the brotherhood in football, but the game he fell in love with started to become a business that slowly took its toll on his body and spirit.

The monotony of practice, film study and offseason workouts seemed like an endless loop. He was constantly dictated where he had to be and what he had to do. “It’s very structured. My whole life has been like that,” Hawley says. “I felt like I just kind of wanted to experience life, be free.” Playing football for 16 years it became his identity but he knew he wanted to be more than just a football player. Thoughts of what he wanted to do next slowly turned into stress and anxiety.

Hawley thought he had all figured out, he was going to marry his girlfriend, retire and become a football coach. Instead, he ended up walking away from that relationship and taking a huge transition away from football. He decided to strip himself of most of his possessions, buy a van and hit the road. Was his urge for an adventure his way of re-prioritising his life, only he knows.

Behind all of Hawley’s excitement about living on the road, there was also fear that it will get lonely. That’s one of the main reasons why he got Freedom, his dog. Who he says is the love of his life and the greatest travel companion he could ask for. He knew from the start that he wanted a dog to be with him on the journey. So he started searching from different shelters. There were some cute puppies and older dogs but they weren’t ready for the trip or didn’t have enough energy to keep up. Finally, he came across to a 2-year-old boxer mix sulking in the back of her cage at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center, curled up in a ball, shaking uncontrollably. Hawley said: “As I approached the cage she got up and went outside to the other half of her living space and when I walked around to try and say hi, she just got up and went to her original spot.” “Most dogs at this place were screaming “pick me – pick me” but not this one, she was so scared, depressed and alone that all she could do was curl up in a ball and shake,” he added.

Hawley had a feeling inside that this dog would be so grateful for him to be rescued from that place. “I got her in the car and started singing George Michaels “Freedom” I knew she was free and I was free and we were now free together,” Hawley said and added: “how could I not name her Freedom, it was perfect.” Freedom reminds him every day how much there is to be thankful for.

Hawley has also adopted a minimalist lifestyle in retirement, using a philosophy of “Living with less to experience more.” According to him, selling his possessions was like a physical weight lifting from his shoulders.

Joe Hawley’s Man Van Dog Blog has over 40 000 followers on Instagram, who want to be a part of his travels. He hit the road on the 4th of April and he’s received many offers for dog dates, places to stay, random meet-ups and a lot more.

Joe Hawley is a great example of the ultimate free spirit. He is not even sure where he will travel and for how long but with Freedom beside him he has never been happier for not knowing where he’s headed.

Sport and Dogs bring you stories about the great athletes and their dogs.

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