Date: Sat, 16 Sep 2006 13:37:34
To:"Retired NFL Players" <Retired-NFL-Players@googlegroups.com>
Subject: [Retired NFL Players] When the Cheering Stops
When the Cheering Stops
Fearing that players weren't prepared emotionally or financially for
life after football, the NFL looked to business schools for help
By FARA WARNER
Wall Street Journal
September 16, 2006
When star quarterback Drew Brees first folded his lanky 6-foot frame
into a cramped chair in one of the Wharton School's austere auditoriums
in the spring of 2005, he had reason to wonder why he was sitting at a
desk instead of chilling out during the off-season.
Twenty-six years old at the time, Mr. Brees figured he had at least a
decade or more of play left in him. He was already one of the top-paid
players in the National Football League, and that was before he signed
a six-year $60 million deal with the New Orleans Saints earlier this
He'd also made certain he got his college degree -- in industrial
management at Purdue University -- if he needed something to fall back
on. But it didn't take long before the steady stream of talk about
competition, market analysis and exit strategies from Wharton
professors got him asking tough questions. "If football ended right
now, what would I do?" he remembers thinking.
It was exactly the kind of question the NFL and its players union hoped
players would ask themselves when they enrolled in the league's
Started in April 2005 at Wharton and Harvard Business School, the
program now includes Northwestern and Stanford, with close to 200
football players having graduated from the program so far.
So Many Sad Stories
Despite growing salaries for players over the decades and basic
financial education offered through the players association, the NFL
had noticed a troubling trend of players being unprepared --
financially and emotionally -- for a life after football.
On the money front, there were enough sad stories of players ending up
broke after retirement that the league knew it needed to take action.
"Not everyone in the NFL is going to make $10 million," says
Christopher L. Henry, the NFL's director of player development. Mr.
Henry says the average player makes $1.4 million a year, with a
significant number making far below $1 million. The starting salary for
players is $275,000 a year. While that may sound like a lot to the
average viewer of Monday Night Football, that salary may be short-lived
if a player gets injured or doesn't have his contract picked up.
Even trickier was the emotional side, where players had to grapple with
finding a career that could come close to replacing one that includes
fame and adoring fans.
"It's not about the financial state I'll be in that worries me," said
Matt Joyce, a veteran of 11 NFL seasons as an offensive lineman, during
a break at the Wharton program. "It's the mental state I need to think
about. I need something that will challenge me."
In an effort to address both the financial and emotional challenges,
the league decided to partner with respected business schools, Mr.
Henry says. It wanted programs designed to push, not coddle, players in
ways they rarely get pushed off the field.
Players must apply for the 120 positions available across the four
universities. They need letters of recommendation and must write an
essay. They also pay between $4,500 and $10,000 for the program,
reimbursed by their teams. In the first year, there was a waiting list
Each school offers classes on investment strategies and watching out
for stock and real-estate scams. But from that base they differ widely.
Wharton focuses on entrepreneurship and real-estate investments during
its six-day course, which is split into two three-day seminars. It
offers business coaches for at least a year to the players to help them
move forward with business plans they may have created during the
program. Harvard, which also offers two three-day seminar programs,
focuses on management. Northwestern offers a specialization in
marketing, and Stanford focuses on sports business and
entrepreneurship. Those last two programs are only 3½ days.
Wharton's professors say they have been most surprised by the intensity
the players bring to the classroom. In fact, some players -- such as
the Buffalo Bills' Troy Vincent -- have gone to three of the programs
"They're the best students you could imagine," says Mori Taheripour, a
Wharton lecturer in legal studies and associate director of the Wharton
Sports Business Initiative, which helped create the curriculum with the
business school. "They would be as excited at 7 p.m. to learn as they
were at 9 a.m."
Ms. Taheripour, who served as Mr. Brees's business coach over the past
year, teaches a negotiation class where typically one player pretends
to be a team owner and the other is a player. They are taught how to
give up certain demands, but stay firm on others. It's often an intense
class and one that many of the players continue to talk about during
"It's humbling for them because they usually have agents who negotiate
their contracts for them," says Ms. Taheripour. "But they won't have
that when they are out in business. So the learning curve can be really
huge when they have to do it on their own for the first time."
Talking Fears and Hopes
Outside the formal lectures and classes, Wharton builds in time for
one-on-one meetings with their business coaches and small groups so
that the players feel comfortable talking about their fears and hopes
about life after football.
"It's not as easy as having them read 'What Color is My Parachute?'"
says Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business
Initiative. "Most of these guys aren't going to get a job. What they
need is something that will be as fulfilling as the cheering they got
on the field."
It likely will take more than a few days in the classroom for most
players to find anything close to that, but for Messrs. Joyce and Brees
a few days at Wharton at least sparked some ideas for what will happen
when they do leave the gridiron.
Mr. Joyce says he'd like to think of a way to turn what's been a
not-so-great situation -- numerous surgeries -- into a business. "You
name a body part and it's probably been worked on," he says as he
touches both shoulders and points to a scar on his hand, where pins
hold a bone together. "So maybe I'll get into medical devices."
A year later, Mr. Brees says he finds himself dreaming up business
ventures during airplane rides. He toys with writing business plans and
researching the competition.
He hasn't found one that he wants to stick with yet, he says. But
Wharton gave him at least one concrete idea for what he wants after
football. "I know exactly what my first steps will be when football
ends," he says. "I want to get an M.B.A...at Wharton."
--Ms. Warner is a writer in Ann Arbor, Mich. She can be reached at
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Copyright 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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