Why Keith Fitzhugh turned down the NFL to become a train conductor

Abu Mubarik February 15, 2022
This Jan. 21, 2011 handout photo provided by Norfolk Southern shows Keith Fitzhugh working on the railroad at the McDonough Training Center in McDonough, Ga. Fitzhugh gained national attention last December when he declined an offer to join the New York Jets to remain a conductor with Norfolk Southern Railroad and stay on track financially. His parents needed him, he said, and he couldn't let them down. (credit: AP Photo/Norfolk Southern, Casey Thomason), (credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

Growing up, Keith Fitzhugh, 36, aspired to play in the NFL and even had a chance to sign with the New York Jets as a free-agent safety. However, he gave up on that dream to work on the railroad, essentially choosing family over football.

This singular act shot him into the media limelight and he got featured on ABC, CNN and ESPN and even got a congratulatory call from the president of his company. “I had no idea any of this was coming,” Fitzhugh told the New York Times. “I’m just a normal guy. I work on the railroad.”

He noted how important it was for him to support his struggling parents than to gamble on playing at a Super Bowl ring. At the time, he said his father was disabled and couldn’t work and the family depended on his stable salary to make ends meet.

“People say I may have had a chance to play in the Super Bowl, and I sit there and think, and I tell them — hey, you only got one mom and dad!” Fitzhugh told ABC News.

In college, Fitzhugh was the star of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the college‘s team. He first signed a contract with the Jets after graduating in 2009. However, he was cut twice, and temporarily signed for the Baltimore Ravens, who also let him go. He then joined Norfolk Southern’s conductor program.

When the Jets had only two safeties, both of whom had sustained injuries, on their roster in 2010, they reached out to Fitzhugh looking for temporary backup but he politely declined.

“I had to turn them down, ’cause I had a great job,” he said. “It’s about being a young man and not being selfish… I could have been released again, and that was a chance I was not going to take.”

Fitzhugh’s decision to choose the trains over the NFL could also be attributed to his love for trains. According to the Times, his love for trains saw him pay a few hundred dollars to install a train horn in his Dodge Magnum.

Diane Cameron, his former teacher, narrated to the New York Times that Fitzhugh challenged even teachers to footraces, excelled at math and declared he would play professional football while talking incessantly about trains.

He took his first passenger train from New York to Atlanta as a child. Now working his dream job, his son, Keith lll, has dreams of being drafted as well and will be starting flag football soon.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 15, 2022


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