Despite life’s challenges, former NFL player John Frank is happy and loves to share his joy with others. Contrary to popular opinion, he says 2020 has been the best year. In January, he desired more chances to share his message of happiness with others, and it has come true. “I believe in the law of the harvest: What you put out there, you are going to get back,” he said. “When trials come, it is easy to get down, anxious, and have doubts, but when you dig deep, you can find a way to grow through it.”
A Life Changing Injury
John’s most challenging trial came in 2002 as he played professional football with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was finally healthy after a collision with a sasquatch offensive lineman which tore his meniscus. They were playing the St. Louis Rams for the NFC conference championship. His hopes were high, and he had tickets already booked for the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, things took a massive turn during practice when a teammate hit him in the throat during a drill.
“It hurt so bad, and I couldn’t talk very well. I got checked out at practice, but it didn’t get any better. Then to top it all off, we lost, and I had to cancel all our plans,” said the former University of Utah player.
For months after, John couldn’t talk or breathe very well, so he had an MRI done. Doctors found a cyst on his vocal cords, and they told John it was cancerous.
“They said they couldn’t do a fine needle biopsy because it would jeopardize too many structures in my throat. They recommended removing the cyst and doing a biopsy during the surgery. It sounded like a logical solution, so I gave them the go-ahead,” John recalls.
The surgeon successfully removed the cyst, but in the process, he cut John’s recurrent laryngeal nerve, leaving one vocal cord permanently paralyzed.
Born to Sing
“I was devastated,” he said. “I couldn’t speak normally. But the worst part was I lost my singing voice. I loved singing more than I loved playing football. I knew one day football would be over, but I always hoped to sing.”
Singing was in his blood. His mother, Beverly Brent Frank, was a recording artist in the ‘50s and ‘60s and even worked with Frank Sinatra. His father, Alan Frank, was a self-taught jazz pianist and vocalist who played with the popular big band leader Alvino Ray in the Navy in 1944.
“I couldn’t help it,” John says. “I sat in the living room every night listening to them jam. I picked up vocals, piano, and saxophone.”
The Frank family formed a band called “The Beverly Brothers.” They sang a lot of Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr., and other jazz standard pieces.
“We’d perform down at the Manhattan Club in Salt Lake City. After my football games (at the University of Utah), my friends would go to other places, but I’d go straight down to the club and perform until one or two in the morning with my mom and dad,” he remembers.
Tackling All of Life’s Curveballs
Even now, John wakes up every morning, wondering if he is going to have a voice or not. He sometimes holds a hand over his throat to make it easier to talk. “It was a crazy, crazy thing that happened,” John says.
Unfortunately, another side-effect of the surgery was John couldn’t breathe as well. “I was never the same. It’s hard to play football when you can’t breathe,” he says. He had a run with the New York Jets, then the New York Giants and even went to Canada to play for a year, but he played with difficulty. Eventually, he had to cut his career short.
It took a long time to deal with his troubles, but he’s doing well now. “It still affects me every single day, but I’ve learned not to dwell on it. I have been so blessed. My family gives me strength. My career is going well, and I’ve been a football coach (for the Utes, Dixie State College, Skyline High School, and now Olympus High School). I shouldn’t be able to yell across the field, but I can,” he said.
John says the following helped him to overcome his challenges:
Commit to a Daily Regimen: He feels establishing a routine helps him come to terms with the changes in his voice, and he tries to do it every day. Each morning John prays, reads inspirational literature, then exercises. “I have to do it. It sets a stage for how my day is going to be. If I don’t do it, I feel completely out of balance,” he said.
Be Grateful for Family and Friends: John says he couldn’t have made it through his trials without family. “I can’t tell you why this happened to my voice, but with the support of my amazing wife (Melissa) and three children (Jackson, Johnny, and Samantha), I was able to learn to stop asking ‘why’ and start asking ‘what now?’ What kind of person do I want to be?” He says the strength he gets from his wife is “indescribably powerful!” He says, “Melissa is my best friend and my rock! She is the most loving, understanding, even-keeled person I know.”
Both of his sons are excellent athletes and will play college football. His daughter is also an athlete and a talented musician. His children inspire John. “I get this immense sense of gratitude when watching them play, and then seeing them be great people in the community.”
He also received emotional and mental strength from his parents. “My mother is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and my late father was Jewish, but they loved and respected each other’s differences. It is why some of my teammates called me the Jewish Mormon,” he laughs.
John is also still close to many of his teammates today and appreciates their support and friendship.
Learn to Work Hard: John says if you asked his peers about his football skills in high school, they’d say he was an above-average football player, but reaching the NFL and becoming a college MVP wasn’t necessarily expected. However, after he chose to serve a volunteer mission for his church for two years in Madrid, Spain, he was a different person. “I grew up. I learned hard work, self-reliance, perseverance, dedication, and loving others. I applied it all to my college football career.” He played for the University of Utah from 1995-1999 and was a 2000 NFL draft pick for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Listen and Be Humble: John says it is extremely important to be humble and to listen and learn from those around you, because you will grow. His coach wanted him to be a defensive tackle in high school, but he told his coach he was a linebacker. “Because I was expressing what I wanted to do, instead of being willing to do what the coach wanted me to do, I didn’t start the games that year. It was a hard but important lesson for me. It’s so important to learn to be coachable.” John is grateful he learned that lesson because in college, when his coach, former NFL player Steve Kaufusi, told him he’d like him to move to the defensive end position, he said, “Of course. You’re right. I would love to change positions!” John went on to be a three-year starter for the Utes and still holds many records at Utah.
Find Good Mentors: John says he wouldn’t have as much success in life without following the example of great mentors. “I can still hear my mentors and coaches’ advice as I go to make decisions.” He says he strives to be as father-like when he coaches as Steve Kaufusi and as motivational and detailed as Kyle Whittingham. “I still remember Kyle kept rewinding one of my plays my freshman year to show everyone an example of how to play. It meant a lot, and it motivated me!”
Serve Others: “When you do kind things for others, it helps you forget about yourself and your problems. It is impossible to serve someone and not have good feelings toward them and toward yourself,” John says. He has coached and mentored young people for the last 20 years and loves being able to serve them. “There is something so amazing and incredible about helping them to realize their potential and being a small part of their journey to reaching it.”
Pursue Hobbies and Dreams: “It takes courage and faith to put yourself out there and say this is what you want to do, but if your desires are pure, then it will happen,” he says. Even though he can’t sing like he used to, he still loves music. He plays saxophone and enjoys writing songs on the piano. His 19-year-old son, 17-year-old son, and 13-year-old daughter are natural singers, songwriters, and musicians. “I love hearing them sing and play guitar and piano. It makes me happy that although I cannot sing anymore, my children have my voice.” John has many other hobbies and especially loves to do things in nature.
► You’ll also like: John Madsen: Sharing the Dream