Butterfly season: Henoc Muamba ready to tackle business, media opportunities following CFL retirement

Photo: Matt Johnson/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Retirement from professional sports is rarely a graceful process but Henoc Muamba is looking to flip the script after recently making the decision to end his CFL career.

“I’m excited to kind of reframe the narrative of transitioning from football. I don’t think that it should be this melancholic, egregious process — it’s a time of celebration,” he told 3DownNation via telephone on Wednesday. “I treat my career as though I was in a cocoon and I feel like my life is just about to begin and I’m ready to fly like a butterfly. To me, really, it’s butterfly season.”

The six-foot, 230-pound linebacker was one of the CFL’s top defensive players for long periods of his 13-year career, which included stints on both sides of the border. He was a three-time East Division all-star, two-time CFL all-star, and remains one of only four players in league history to win Most Outstanding Canadian and Grey Cup MVP.

Though he contemplated retirement a number of times, Muamba knew it was time to pull the trigger when he found himself at peace watching the Montreal Alouettes win it all in Hamilton.

“I think one of the times that I was really certain I knew for sure that I was ready was the Grey Cup last year. I was genuinely happy for the guys that won. I know a lot of the young guys over there … and I was genuinely happy as opposed to being hurt,” said Muamba.

“There was a couple of years where we didn’t win the Grey Cup and I remember telling my wife, ‘Listen, let’s get in the car, let’s drive. I want to get out of the country, I don’t even want to hear about the Grey Cup.’ That’s happened before because of the pain, the bitterness, and the hurt of falling short. So last year when I was genuinely happy, I told myself, ‘You know what? This is how you know you’re ready for the next step.'”

Muamba’s rookie contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers expired following the 2013 season, which coincided with the expiration of the CFL’s collective bargaining agreement. By the time he returned to the league in 2015 following a stint with the Indianapolis Colts, veteran players had negotiated the right to sign one-year contracts, creating the most transient era in CFL history.

The St. Francis Xavier University product’s career was emblematic of this time period as he never spent more than three seasons with the same team, though each of his CFL stops carries a unique significance. Winnipeg is where he played the most regular season games (47), though his most career starts (35) came with the Montreal Alouettes. He was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, while he won his lone Grey Cup with Toronto.

Traditionally, players entering the Baseball Hall of Fame select a team hat to be displayed on their plaque when they’re enshrined. When asked with which CFL team he most strongly identifies, Muamba needed to think about it because each city still holds a special place in his heart. Winnipeg is the team that drafted him, though Montreal was the first city he and his family moved to after emigrating from Africa.

“It has to be Toronto because that’s where I was able to bring back the trophy. It might still be early to answer that question, but that’s how I feel at this moment in time,” he said.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my career. There was multiple points in my career during at least the last two, three years where I was already contemplating retirement, so I’m glad I didn’t do it any sooner than 2022. That ending? I wouldn’t have been able to write it even if I wanted to. It was an amazing ending to a game, one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of, let alone a Grey Cup. To have played a role in it as well and have helped my team hoist the trophy. I can’t ask for anything more.”

Muamba dealt with a lingering knee injury during training camp this past year, which landed him on the six-game injured list to start the regular season. He indicated there were conversations about him potentially returning to the lineup but he never ended up being activated, leaving the 109th Grey Cup in Regina as his last career game.

The 35-year-old recently returned from a business trip to Hong Kong where he’s working with a company called Bili to develop a social commerce platform that helps connect brands with online influencers. He’s been interested in business since university and has a few smaller active ventures on the side.

Muamba also plans to remain in and around the CFL as a member of the media, a role he started transitioning into this past year across various platforms. He’s hoping to be on the panel with the CFL on TSN in 2024 and indicated that he has meetings lined up with the network to potentially finalize an agreement.

There might also be an opportunity for Muamba to marry his interest in football and business at some point in the future by working in a CFL front office. He indicated that he’s had multiple conversations regarding the possibility of working for a team, which is an avenue he’d like to pursue someday.

“I’ve always kinda wanted to be a part of a front office and possibly a general manager, so hopefully that’s in the future,” he said. “Obviously, when it comes to front office work, it has a lot to do with vacancies and opportunities, so that’s something that I’m sure at some point down the road will come up as well.”

Muamba also wants to spend more time working for his foundation, which he calls a “legacy project.” He already works extensively helping mentor local kids but wants to take his work global, indicating that he regularly interacts with kids in the Congo through direct messages on Instagram. The NFL has been in touch with Muamba regarding their interest in growing the game in Africa, which could be a potential avenue to help change the lives of young people overseas.

On top of all his other commitments and business dealings, Muamba and his wife, Jessica, have three young daughters. His oldest, age six, recently finished first in bars and third overall at a gymnastics competition in Las Vegas. It’s hardly a surprise that she’s shown such promising athleticism given Henoc’s acumen in football and basketball and Jessica’s background as a powerlifter.

“We’re happy with our three girls but everybody always says, ‘Oh, you have to have another [child] because when you have a son, he’s gonna be able to lift the house and he’s gonna be this amazing football player,’ but that’s never been my intent with kids. I’m excited for the future of our girls and I love the fact that girls are who they are.”

When reminded of the many female athletes playing collegiate football across North America, Muamba seemed intrigued by the prospect of his daughters helping break barriers on the gridiron.

“There you go,” said Muamba, joking that he’ll demand an NIL deal from any school looking to recruit his girls. “Maybe they will be the first (female) linebackers to play pro, who knows? I’m excited for their future.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.