Skip to content

How To Take Criticism: A Life Lesson NFL Great Darren Woodson Learned

Local Profile interviewed Darren Woodson at the Bryon Nelson's Choctaw Club

Darren Woodson made his name on the gridiron. But the lessons he learned as a college and NFL player stayed with him off the field, including how to take criticism. 

A native of Arizona, Woodson joined the Cowboys as a second-round pick in 1992. For the next 12 seasons, he was instrumental in helping the team win three Super Bowls, and he racked up 1,350 career stops, earning his spot as the Cowboys' all-time leading tackler.

Recently, Woodson was named an ambassador to the Choctaw Casinos & Resorts brand, along with Troy Aikman, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and, more recently, Emmitt Smith — a true Mount Rushmore of Texas sports. 

During this year's CJ Cup Byron Nelson, which runs until May 5, Local Profile spoke with Woodson about football, golf and, of course, Choctaw. 

Local Profile: I heard you lived in Plano. Is that true?

Darren Woodson: I used to live in Willow Bend Estates, right off Park and the tollway. Now I'm in Preston Hollow, but that's where I raised my kids. They went to Trinity Christian Academy.

LP: Tell me about your new role at Choctaw Casinos & Resorts.

DW: I'm an ambassador. I think the relationship with Choctaw and myself personally has spanned the last seven years. The entire team has always been welcoming. I've always taken that trip up to Durant, which is just a 45-minute drive up Central for me. It's always been a great relationship. What they've asked from me has been nothing, and what I've asked from them has been nothing. But we've had this relationship where we've both been in the community. And in the past couple of years that relationship has become a bond. And now, here we are, and I'm doing work with Troy and Pudge — and now, Emmitt Smith. 

LP: That's an amazing line-up. 

DW: I wish I had this relationship with Choctaw when I was playing ball. 

LP: How so?

DW: Oh, a lot of amenities that they have now are special. The concert venue is world-class. The steakhouse is just phenomenal. And now with the new tower out there? I take my kids. We bring a lot of families and truckloads of friends up there. We sit outside, and we have a good time. And we're right back — and it's 30 to 40 minutes from my home. So it's been an awesome relationship.

LP: I love it, because it's so close, yet far enough. And it's in another state, so you really feel like you've gone somewhere else.

DW: Right! Especially the wife. She feels that way and treats it like a weekend vacation. My job as an ambassador is coming to events like this. Or during football season, I go up to Choctaw and do some interactive calls and messaging for them. We do a lot of things where I'll do a Q&A talking to all the football fans up in Oklahoma about the games or doing halftime reports on Cowboys games. And that's been great, because I've met so many people and so many Cowboy fans.

"How do you accept failure? Do you wake up the next morning and bounce back? Or do you mope about?"

LP: In the past few years, Choctaw has done a lot of sports, whether that's the Choctaw Club here at the Byron Nelson, sponsoring other golf tournaments or even buying the name rights to the old Texas Rangers stadium in Arlington. Do you think that the relationship between Choctaw and sports will continue to grow?

DW: I think so. I think that relationship goes hand in hand. When you go up there and you're in the Tower, you see the sports atmosphere. It's almost similar to Vegas, because when you go to Vegas, you see lots of sports fans up there. So yes, I think it goes hand in hand with sports here and that entire community. 

LP: Do you miss playing football?

DW: No.

LP: Really?

DW: Part of it, I do. I do miss the camaraderie. The locker room. I miss all the players, Troy and Emmitt. A lot of the guys that I played with, we're still a tight-knit group. But pain and the surgeries? I don't miss that. 

LP: Did your kids play football?

DW: I got an eight-year-old, and I span all the way to a 29-year-old. My kids have always played sports. Football was a part of that, right? There are so many learning lessons in football because, you know, mom and dad can be out there. There is your commitment, not only to yourself, but to your teammates. And when you're out there, mom and dad can't hold your hand when you're doing the Oklahoma drill or running gassers. No one's there. I think it speaks for life in so many ways.

LP:  What are the takeaways from playing football at the highest level?

DW: Understanding how to accept the loss. And understanding that you're going to have your moments and you're gonna win big games, and you're gonna lose the games. How do you accept failure? Do you wake up the next morning and bounce back? Or do you mope about? Blame others? How do you handle the negativity that comes along with losing? I think one of the things that has really helped me, as an athlete, especially a pro or college athlete, is that people criticize you. Everyone does. Your coaches criticize you. You watch film the next day, your peers criticize you. The guy on the couch, who is sitting there with his TV and can't play the game for his life, is sitting there criticizing you. Then there's Twitter and social media. The criticism is there every single day. That's part of life, right? So then, when you go through, for example, the journey of owning your own business, and have that criticism come your way, it's like water. You just brush it off your shoulder. I don't get emotional about it. I know if I stick to my task, what I have to do every single day, the greener pastures will come. I just got to stick to what I do. 

LP: Were you like that as a younger man?

DW: I think it changed over time with experience. And just going through it. But I had a mom who worked two jobs and raised four kids by herself. And I watched her go through it. I watched her overcome failure, and figure out ways to put food on the table, get us through school and get us all graduated from college. That's a long commitment. But then I saw I had to go through those experiences and those failures myself, even though she was telling me, 'Hey, there's a pothole there.' But I'd hit another one. I didn't know any better. It's part of life, and life is a journey. And yeah, you're gonna have these ups and downs. But are you going to get up the next day? Are you going to move on? I'm a believer that things happen for a reason. It took me those lessons to grow as a man. 

LP: Does it ever bother you that people who have never played your sport at the highest level criticize you?

DW: No.

LP: Really?

DW: Because when I watch golf, and I've never played golf at the highest level, I will sit on Sunday and criticize my favorite golfers for missing a putt or getting a bogey. And I know that I cannot do that. There's no way. But they're out here playing this game, and they're the best in the world. There is no way I could do what they do. I have so much respect for them. But, at the same time, they are on the biggest stage because they put themselves on it. I put myself on that stage as a football player to accept that criticism and accept the championship wins, too. It's a little bit of both. 

Don't miss anything LocalSign up for our free newsletter.