Alumnus reflects on his journey from football player to artist and activist

August 26, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumnus and former NFL player Aaron Maybin’s passion for art and community began long before he ever stepped onto a football field. Today, he combines art, education and activism to enact change in the Baltimore neighborhood where he grew up. Maybin joins the Democracy Works podcast this week to talk about the hard work of organizing and how he uses art to inspire action throughout Baltimore.

“If there's a topic that's trending, everybody wants to weigh in on it,” Maybin said. “But at the end of the day, how much do you really think this tweet is getting you? Not much unless you are actually showing up to meetings and getting boots on the ground and staying informed about what’s going on.”

Democracy Works is produced by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy in the College of the Liberal Arts and WPSU Penn State and begins its fourth season this semester.

Maybin, a first-team, All-Big Ten defensive end and Pigskin Club National Defensive Player of the Year, spent three seasons at Penn State before joining the NFL in 2009. He played for several professional teams, including the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.

Today, he is an art teacher at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in Baltimore, founder of the Project Mayhem foundation and author of the book “Art-Activism,” a collection of paintings, poetry and essays.

Even before he left the NFL, Maybin was already starting to plant the seeds for life as an artist and an organizer. His time as an athlete gave him the drive and determination to carry out the visions he had for what Baltimore could be.

While Maybin couldn’t solve all of Baltimore’s problems on his own, he did realize that he would need to immerse himself in the community he wanted to help, rather than coming in as an athlete or public figure from the outside.

“I realized how naive I was as a 20-year-old rookie coming into the NFL thinking that this contract is gonna be enough for me to fix all the problems in my city,” Maybin said. “Ultimately, everybody was giving me praise for the work that I was doing, but I didn't feel like anything was actually getting done.”

Maybin sees the work he’s doing as an essential part of building and sustaining democracy in Baltimore and beyond.

“To me, democracy is a beautiful idea, but as with any idea you have to work constantly to manifest it,” he said. “We have to go back and we have to continuously self-evaluate and see if we're on the right side of history. The more that we have a true understanding of what democracy is, the better Americans we'll all be.”

For more information about Maybin and his work, visit his website. Listen to Democracy Works at or search “Democracy Works” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcast app.

Last Updated September 03, 2020