Forward Progress

NFL 2015 Group Photo

by Matt Coleman // from the June issue of 904 Magazine

The contract figures might be massive, but the average NFL career is over in the blink of an eye. Players who want to parlay their contract money into bigger things after they hang up the pads need to be well-versed in the X’s and O’s of business, and the NFL has created an offseason training program that seeks to exercise participants’ financial muscles.

This year’s NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program wrapped up in April. The intense, four-day, tech-focused business primer was hosted at the San Francisco campus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Jacksonville was well-represented at this year’s event—current offensive tackle Sam Young and recently retired Jaguars great Maurice Jones-Drew were chosen to participate. The program is a collaboration between the league, the NFL Players Association and a number of top-level graduate business schools, including Harvard, Northwestern and Notre Dame.

Young is a two-time program participant who applied last year when it was hosted at Notre Dame, where he was a business undergrad during his collegiate career. He says he particularly enjoyed collaborating with his fellow players on the Business Pitch Competition, in which groups put together business plans and present them to a panel of judges at the end of the four-day program. Some of those ideas were so fleshed out that they actually received funding.

He says he jumped at the chance to participate again and share some business knowledge with his gridiron peers. He found this year’s tech-focused curriculum developed by Wharton’s Ivy League faculty particularly alluring, and he was drawn in by the opportunity to learn about Silicon Valley from industry experts Bill Maris at Google Ventures, Naomi Gleit at Facebook and Curtis Lee from Luxe, an up-and-coming tech firm.

“I’ve been trying to be as active as possible planning for my next career,” Young says. “It’s an inevitability—you can’t play football until you’re 50. So I’m trying to prepare for that next stage and work out my mind during the offseason in addition to getting physically ready for the season.”

Young says he’s working to learn the nuts and bolts of the private wealth management field, and he’s already completed internships and job shadowing stints with Merrill Lynch, Citibank and Morgan Stanley to help fine tune his skills. He credits the Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program as being an effective accelerator for NFL players past and present who want to establish their own business enterprises or nonprofits.

This year’s event schedule included presentations from a number of NFL veterans and previous program participants such as Jeremy Bloom, Ronnie Lott and Ryan Nece.

“We will continue to stand by our players to make sure they are prepared for career opportunities long after their playing days are over,” says Charles Way, vice president of NFL Player Engagement. “This program is invaluable in providing the mentorship and business advice that will help players build their confidence, ultimately helping them succeed in the corporate world.”

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which has locations in both Philadelphia and San Francisco, has been in partnership with the NFL since 2004, says Sanya Sharma, Industry Association Practice director at The Wharton School’s Aresty Institute of Executive Education. She says the NFL initially reached out to establish a program that would help jumpstart the post-football careers of its employees. Those early courses were geared around helping the players transition into their next career, while this year’s was a much more targeted event schedule based around the tech sector.

“We always ask the players what they’re interested in doing next, and tech start ups were a hot topic for them,” Sharma says.

A lot of market movement in the sector is tied to the fitness industry and wearable workout tracking devices, a fact that Wharton instructors wove into their presentations. She says the program’s curriculum is built fresh each year by the institution hosting the players, and this year’s course schedule was broken into three distinct tracks—basic business acumen, transitioning into entrepreneurship and investing in tech startups and venture capital. Those in-class experiences are paired with in-depth conversations with industry leaders to offer a strong foundation on which players can establish their business ideas.

“They come away with some effective tips, like leveraging their brand identities through social media so they can have a strong base to market to when they decide to make their way into the business world,” she says. “These are high-performing individuals on the field, so they enjoy getting to see how high-performing teams operate in the business space.”

Although Young says his focus remains on the field and his post-football career is far from wrapped up, he credits the NFL with giving players like him a taste of the business world.

“The offseason provides this perfect window of time where I can improve myself going into the next season,” he says. “It’s another kind of working out, and this is productive for me because it gives me a head start career-wise. It’s a great point in the right direction professionally.”