Q&A: Former Northwestern, NFL linebacker to compete for Illinois Senate Seat

Audrey Cheng

Napoleon Harris (Communication ‘01) is running for the 15th Illinois Senate seat to replace retiring state Sen. James Meeks (D-Calumet City). Harris was formerly a linebacker for Northwestern and played professionally most recently for the Minnesota Vikings.

Daily: Describe for me some of your experiences at NU.

Harris: Just coming to Northwestern itself was a tremendous opportunity. First and foremost, it gave me the opportunity to get a great education from an outstanding university. It also offered me the opportunity to play Division 1 football at the highest level at a great university. At the time, I was coming to it as far as it being a nationally-recognized university. It was just coming off of a Rose Bowl Championship and a Sugar Bowl Championship. I decided to go to Northwestern because I wanted to play at the University that was on national TV. On top of that, I wanted to be a part of something. Traditionally, Northwestern hasn’t always been a powerhouse at football. So I took it upon myself to go to a university where I would not only get a great education, but I was going to be a part of history and part of a legacy and getting Northwestern over that hump.

Daily: What did you learn from being at NU?

Harris: I learned a lot from the guys, being in a team sport, learning in the classroom with great professors. One of my favorite professors was Bernie Beck, a sociology professor. Another was in Kellogg–Steven Rogers. He’s a Kellogg School of Business professor. In the sociology class, we had to go out and do research, and that was something that I remember to this day – understanding homelessness not just in America, but just in our community and our environment. It’s heartbreaking.

Daily: How did it feel coming into NU with great pressure to play well, as the school had just competed in the Rose Bowl and Citrus Bowl in previous years?

Harris: It was great. Expectations are something I think we all need. It creates a situation where there can be pressure, but it also creates a situation where it is expected of you to do the task at hand.

Daily: How have your experiences in football impacted your running for the state senate?

Harris: Football is the ultimate team sport. You have 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense who must work in unison in order to complete the task. It’s no different than politics. As a state senator, you work with other state senators and legislators to make sure that the betterment of the people has prevailed. I think that transcends from football to politics. As the linebacker, I was the quarterback of the defense. I’m actually to dictate plays and make snap decisions. Leaders need responsibility, and I plan on leading the 15th district to great heights.

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