The great diplomat, Frederick Douglass, once said that if there’s no struggle, there is no progress and this sentiment holds true to the journey of a child who was once counted out and deemed a social statistic. However, model Keith Carlos used the barriers against him as motivators and proof that regardless of the hand you’re dealt there’s always moves to be played. Here’s what Keith had to say about his journey to become America’s Next Top Brand!
Describe the impact that playing sports have had on your life as an adolescent.
Playing sports in my adolescent years molded me into the man I am today. With my mother incarcerated and no father figure in my life, I learned my toughest lessons through the balance of sports and the streets. Sports gave me the discipline I needed to change the negative perception of adversity. It also kept me physically and mentally healthy. It instilled a burning hunger for more.
How did you know you were good enough to pursue an NFL career?
I knew I was good enough when I was given doubt that I couldn’t make it. My whole life I’ve proven people wrong with my successes, sometimes even myself. I always had confidence because I’ve always been a standout player on every team I was on.
Did you feel any outside pressures as a young man of color to choose the perfect institution that would allow for the necessary recognition to catch the attention of recruiters?
Never! If it wasn’t for sports, college wouldn’t have been an option for me. I would be in jail or dead because that’s the common place for someone like myself coming from the hood. I always had to take the long route to success starting with going to Junior College after being a 5th year senior. I knew anywhere I went after my Juco would be elite. From there I would do what I do best to achieve something at its highest level.
Describe the injury that changed your life’s trajectory.
I never sustained a life-changing injury. Being injured is apart of the game. I made my mind up mentally after an injury that I wanted more and something different. Because I was bored with football at the time and tired of always hurting.
When did you realize that it was time to say goodbye to your football career?
I realized it was time for me to say goodbye to football when my over 24 years of experience wasn’t measuring up to the politics of the game. The struggles were no longer worth more than my happiness.
From the field to the runway, where did the decision to enter the modeling industry come from?
Winning America’s Next Top Model really gave me the confidence, financial backing, and social validity I needed to become successful as a model.
How did you prepare for the transition/change?
I didn’t prepare, I just reacted to everything with a good business mindset. This helped me align with the right people to get me where I currently am.
Are there any unknown similarities in practices that you see with modeling to a routine of an athlete?
Yes. As a model, you have to keep the same healthy lifestyle but as a professional athlete, you’re even more diet specific. You have to carry yourself well and have discipline when things are really good or really bad.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as a model?
As a model my biggest accomplishment is I inspire people all around the world. I have the power through doing something I love to make someone in another country that I would probably have never met pursue or never to give up on their dream. Even in the hood I’m from I inspire people. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that because of seeing my maturation from running the streets to where I am now has helped change people’s personal life.
How did your family and friends react to your career change?
They were very supportive and some of them didn’t agree but they had to respect it. I went from the NFL one month to being the first male winner of America’s Next Top Model the next. Plus my visibility increased as well with the caliber of work I was booking and I gained social validity.
What are the makings of a successful male model?
The makings of a successful model are just finding a consistent clientele and being able to provide for your family from that work, well at least in my case.
How did winning America’s Next Top Model help with the Keith Carlos brand?
It gave me the platform to do whatever I want because I have the masses and the facial recognition to do so. I’m not just another Instagram model or model stuck with an agency. I’m of celebrity status now.
What’s next for Keith Carlos?
I’m continuing to work as a model but also doing acting, producing, and entrepreneurial ventures. I’m diversifying my portfolio so that I have multiple streams of income.
How’s fatherhood treating you?
Fatherhood is nothing less than amazing! Keith Carlos Jr. has made me more of a beast at everything I do because now everything I do is to take care of him. So he doesn’t have to have the childhood I had growing up in the hood. I’m also filling a void because I always wanted a father to learn how to be a man from and to be there for me. I learned from the streets, coaches, my mother, and grandparents. I risked my life many times because I didn’t have that solid foundation I needed. By the grace of Yahweh, I made it to where I am because a lot of people don’t make it this far where I’m from.
Check out this feature and more in our Sports Issue Magazine below.
Jimmy Romano (black turtle neck)
Irvin Rivera (shirtless)
Jessy J (suit)