An American man who'd turned down a six-figure engineering job at ExxonMobil to cross the globe and play a sport he'd never even heard of until his 20s was forced to confront a big question in 2019: had he made a mistake?
Mason Cox, a 32-year-old Texan and Australian rules football star, suffered a devastating eye injury during a game. He was diagnosed with two torn retinas, leaving him temporarily blinded.
"Did I do the right thing, coming here? Now I have something that's probably gonna affect me for the rest of my life," he recalled thinking at the time. "Was it worth it?"
In 2022, after six surgeries and getting a pair of prescription goggles, Cox had one of his best years.
"I'm gonna look back and think, 'You had the most ridiculous life you could possibly think of that makes no sense," Cox told 60 Minutes correspondent Jon 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 foot 11, he needed to duck under doorways at his suburban Dallas school, but he played soccer, not basketball. Once at Oklahoma State for college, Cox did get a job playing hoops.
He mimicked, then playing at Baylor, for the women's team so they could learn to play against someone of her height. Cox then joined the men's team at OSU as a walk-on. He spent part of three seasons as the 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'd be interested in attending a combine in Los Angeles for the Australian Football League. Cox had never heard of it.
"I have no idea what I'm getting myself into," Cox said. "I land in LA. I get picked up in an unmarked white van, thrown in the back, and he goes, 'We're gonna go to the hotel, and we're gonna do three days of training.'"
After the combine, Cox was summoned to Melbourne, where he auditioned for Australian coaches. Soon after, he declined his job offer from Exxon and signed with the storied Collingwood Magpies, the AFL's equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys.
In the years since, he's logged almost 100 games over eight seasons. Cox has become an evangelist for his sport, which is played on an oval surface almost double the size of an NFL field. Footy entails players running about 10 miles a game, juking, tackling, passing by punching the ball and scoring by kicking the ball through an array of goalposts.
"It's unlike anything else 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 soccer, cricket, even. There's really no rules. A few sticks at each end. Just try to kick it through those, and then – whoever does more than the other team wins."
He had a lot to learn to catch up to players who'd been familiar with the game more 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 instead of a liability.
Craig McRae, now the team's head coach, was the head of development in 2014 when he was assigned to get Cox up to speed. He could see the potential in him, even without a background in the game.
"He's got that chip, that, 'Hey, I'm gonna 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, just thinking to myself, 'Holy smokes. Like, this has happened pretty quickly. You're sitting here about to play in front of the most passionate fans probably in the world, on one of the biggest days, and you barely know what this sport is,'" Cox said.
The game started as if scripted. A ball spilled out. Darcy Moore got the ball and saw Cox in the distance and punted it to the rookie, who caught it and scored with his very first kick.
"That day I think was one of those days that solidified that, you know, this might be something I do for quite a long time," Cox said.
From there he was off and running, becoming a fan favorite. Cox also developed into what locals would call a "fair dinkum Aussie." Flanked by his captain, his coach and his parents, he got his Australian citizenship to prove it. Cox says he's probably one of the most Australian Americans out there.
"I still love America and I'm still American, but I'm, I'm half and half now," he said.
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