Patrick Mahomes is bigger than the NFL, and there's a lot more to come
Patrick Mahomes says he likes to live in the moment, not looking beyond whatever is right in front of him. And, yet, everything he does signals that he is playing the long game.
Between his success on the field, long list of endorsements, commitments to the Kansas City community, willingness to speak out on social injustice and, oh yeah, the monster contract that is the largest ever for an American athlete, Mahomes has positioned himself to be the most powerful and influential athlete of his generation.
“I don’t know if they make a better human,” Kansas City Chiefs teammate and good friend Travis Kelce said this week. “Talk about somebody that wants to be in the community and make things better for everybody, make things easier on those that have had it harder in life.”
For an athlete to be a transcendent figure, he or she first has to have success in their sport. Mahomes wasted no time taking care of that.
He was the NFL MVP in his first year as a starter. He won the Super Bowl in his second. This year, he and the Chiefs have the chance to become the first team since 2004 to repeat as Super Bowl champions, and he is likely to finish a close second to Aaron Rodgers in MVP voting.
Not bad for a guy who turned 25 in Week 2.
Mahomes often looks like a magician on the field, creating plays seemingly out of nothing. It helps that he has a coach with a bottomless bag of offensive tricks, and no shortage of playmakers surrounding him.
But it’s intelligence and work ethic that elevates him. He sees the field differently than most, recognizing openings where others do not. He will find flaws in his game and then work relentlessly on them, with he and coach Andy Reid both pointing to how much better he has gotten at reading defenses in the past season and a half as an example.
“One thing you love about Pat is he’s always taken his weaknesses and tried to turn them into strengths,” Reid said. “That tells a lot about a kid, but it’s also great for his teammates to see that. You can see the improvements of which he’s made every year. Whatever his weakness was, he’s attacked those things and turned them into strengths.”
His success on the field, along with knowing his teammates look to him as a leader, has given Mahomes the confidence to make an impact off the field.
"Patrick has unequivocally become a sphere of influence in a way that transcends sports as an advocate, humanitarian, business leader and of course an inspiration to all based on his style of play and leadership," Chris Cabott, the CEO of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment and one of Mahomes' agents, said.
"That type of influence will only increase in the years to come."In the spring following his MVP season, he announced his “15 and the Mahomies” foundation to benefit underserved kids in Kansas City and east Texas, where he grew up.
In less than two years, it has awarded more than $500,000 in grants to organizations that focus on education, the arts, athletics and children with disabilities. It also launched a program to encourage reading in elementary schools in Kansas City and Texas.
Last summer, three weeks after signing his 10-year, $503 million extension, Mahomes bought a share in the Kansas City Royals. His fiancée, Brittany Matthews, a former soccer player, is part of the ownership group that brought the NWSL back to Kansas City.
“We want to invest in this community as much as they’ve invested into us,” Mahomes said. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg, and we want to continue to invest in this community to be the best community that it possibly can be.”
That investment goes beyond dollars and cents.
He gives local kids something to aspire to, knowing a guy like Patrick Mahomes has their back. He gives residents a common point of pride, one thing everyone can agree on at a time when it seems no one can agree on anything.
“There’s just no end to how many good things he’s done and how many good things he will do,” said Frank White, the longtime Kansas City Royals great who stayed in the area after his playing career and is now the County Executive for Jackson County, which includes Kansas City.
“When you have a signature player who identifies with a team and a city, it not only elevates the team but it elevates the city itself.”
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas can attest to that.
When he attends national events, whether it’s the U.S. Conference of Mayors or last month’s inauguration, Lucas said he invariably gets the same reaction when he introduces himself. “Ah, the Kansas City Chiefs.”
“It is such a wonderful lead that then allows me to talk about zero-fare transportation, allows me to talk about labor rights, allows me to talk about the improvements in race relations that we are trying to make and need to make in Kansas City,” Lucas said.
But Mahomes isn’t just trying to make a difference in Kansas City.
Mahomes is very intentional about what he endorses, be they products or causes. He is selective about those who speak for him, too, wanting to make sure the right message is conveyed.
So it spoke volumes when he joined other Black and brown players in a video calling out the NFL for its silence after George Floyd was killed by a white police officer and its previous efforts to stifle peaceful protests by Colin Kaepernick and other players.
“Black Lives Matter,” Mahomes, whose father is Black and mother is white, said forcefully.
The next day, Commissioner Roger Goodell released a video of his own in which he admitted the NFL had been wrong and promised to stand with players going forward.
“It got people to take notice. It got people to pay attention. It got people thinking `OK, maybe there are things we can do,’ ” Lucas, Kansas City’s mayor, said.
Mahomes and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson also organized a moment of silence before the season opener as a show of “unity” in the fight for racial justice. The two stood at midfield with their arms linked, joining their teams together.
"Patrick is forging his own path and paving the way for a new generation of athletes," said Jacquelyn Dahl, who founded 1UP Sports Marketing and is Mahomes' marketing representative. "Ones who understand the power of their voices and don’t take the responsibility lightly."
Mahomes said he has talked to LeBron James, who has become the model for athletes who've used their success in sports as a springboard for business ventures but also to drive changes. He's also talked to other athletes, and taken cues from how they've used their platforms and their voices in their own communities.
Because he knows he can do more. He wants to do more.
“When you’re given a platform like I’ve been given, you want to try and use it and make the world a better place," he said this week. "I truly mean that when I say that.”
And that, not the MVP trophies he’ll collect or the Super Bowls he’ll win, is what will make him an athlete for the ages.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
Published 5:30 AM CST Feb. 5, 2021 Updated 9:46 AM CST Feb. 5, 2021