An American man who turned down a six-figure engineering job at ExxonMobil to cross the world and play a sport he’d never even heard of until his 20s is forced to face a big question in 2019: What did he do wrong? ?
Mason Cox, a 32-year-old Texan and Australian rules football star, suffered a fatal eye injury during a game. He was diagnosed with two torn retinas, which left him temporarily blind.
“Did I do the right thing, coming here? Now I have something that will probably affect me for the rest of my life,” he recalled thinking at the time. “What was it worth?”
In 2022, after six surgeries and a pair of prescription goggles, Cox had one of his best years.
“I’ll look back and think, ‘You had the most ridiculous life you could possibly think of that doesn’t make sense,'” Cox told 60 Minutes correspondent John Wertheim. “And I took it by the horns and I made the most of it.”
Cox has been defying expectations since high school. At 6 feet 11, he had to duck under the door at his suburban Dallas school, but he played football, not basketball. Once at Oklahoma State for college, Cox got a job playing hoops.
He copied Brittany Griner, then playing at Baylor, for the women’s team so they could learn to play against someone her height. Cox then joined the men’s team at OSU as a walk-on. He spent parts of three seasons as a last option off the bench for the team.
A future in the NBA wasn’t in the cards, but Cox was still being scouted. He was asked if he would be interested in participating in an alliance with Los Angeles for the Australian Football League. Cox never heard of it.
“I have no idea what I’m getting myself into,” Cox said. “I land in L.A. I get picked up in an unmarked white van, dropped back, and he goes, ‘We’ll go to a hotel, and we’ll do three days of training.'”
After joining, Cox was summoned to Melbourne, where he auditioned for Australian coaches. Soon after, he turned down his job offer from Exxon and signed with the Collingwood Magpies, the AFL equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys.
In the years that followed, he logged nearly 100 games over eight seasons. Cox has become a campaigner for his sport, which is played on an oval surface nearly twice the size of an NFL field. Soccer involves players running about 10 miles a game, juking, tackling, passing the ball by punching and kicking the ball through an array of goalposts to score goals.
“It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s probably the roughest sport in the world,” Cox said. “I’d say it’s a mix of basketball, football. It’s a mix of football, cricket, even. There are no rules really. A couple of sticks at each end. Just try to kick through them, and then – whoever does more than the other team wins. .”
He had a lot to learn to catch up to players who were familiar with the game most of their lives. Cox approached his development like the engineer he was supposed to be. He made steady and deliberate progress, solving the physics of using his height as an advantage rather than a liability.
Craig McRae, now the team’s head coach, was head of development in 2014 when he was tasked with bringing Cox up to speed. He sees potential in him even without a playing background.
“He’s got that chip, that, ‘Hey, I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong,'” McRae said.
Cox did just that in his first game. He made his big league debut in April 2016 in one of the most important games of the year.
“I remember sitting in this locker room and just thinking to myself, ‘Holy smoke. Like, it happened so fast. You’re sitting here playing in front of probably the most passionate fans in the world. The biggest day, and you hardly know what this game is about. ‘” Cox said.
The game starts like a script. A ball was dropped. Darcy Moore received the ball and spotted Cox in the distance and pushed it, who caught it and scored with his first kick.
“That day I think was one of those days that solidified, you know, this might be something I do for a long time,” Cox said.
From there he was off and running, becoming a fan favorite. Cox also evolved into what the locals would call “fair dinkum Aussie”. Flanked by his captain, his coach and his parents, he got his Australian citizenship to prove it. Cox says he is probably one of the most Australian Americans.
“I still love America and I’m still American, but me, I’m half now,” he said.