The NFLPA is rolling out a new initiative asking players to define themselves beyond their playing careers – writing their own endings to the phrase “Athlete and ___.”
The motto is the brainchild of NFLPA Senior Player Manager of Player Affairs Dior Ginyard. Ginyard was reading Twitter comments about off-the-field football player stereotypes, and decided he wanted to help showcase the successes that many players had found in their careers beyond the NFL.
That led the NFLPA to create a new #AthleteAnd Workshop around its externship program. At the event in February, 24 active players met with executives from companies like LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as from the NFLPA and NBA, gaining insight into how to grow professional and leverage the opportunity their playing careers provide them.
The #AthleteAnd campaign is now being pushed even further. The NFLPA is reaching out to players to provide their own #AthleteAnd definition on social media, as well as capturing content around the concept at events. The organization is also giving players who share their message an ‘#AthleteAnd ____’ t-shirt and a Sharpie, so that they can fill in that blank themselves.
“We encourage all of the players to think of themselves as more than just football players,” said Ginyard. “That could be career-focused – maybe they’re an athlete and a photographer; it could be business-focused – an athlete and an entrepreneur or an investor; or perhaps it’s around education – an athlete and a graduate. Our goal is to really help the guys build confidence to figure out what their ‘and’ is.”
The phrase aims to encapsulate not only the pursuit of a career outside of football for players, but also how they can enhance their personal brand and continue their own education and personal growth – all providing them the confidence to define themselves as more than just an athlete.
This new campaign and content series comes at a crucial time for NFL players, who now on average have a career that lasts just three and a half years, and are facing a potential work stoppage following the 2020 season – making the ability to transition into a second career even more important.
“Even just five or ten years ago, it was taboo for players to express what they were interested in off the field,” said Brandon Parker, NFLPA communications manager. “Talking to some players, they want to focus on football and say ‘once I retired I can do these investments and build this business’ – we stress to them that their brand and stock is highest when you have that uniform on, so we want to help them find the time and bandwidth to pursue that while all eyes are still on them.”
Offering players career development tools and advice is nothing new for the NFLPA. However, Ginyard said rallying around this motto has allowed the organization to further evolve and hone its efforts.
“As part of our externship program, we’ve had a professional development day that was about resume building and elevator pitching – that was somewhat too in the weeds,” Ginyard said. “We wanted to take a step back, and get into how players view themselves and their identity – it can often be intimidating for a player to be with a top level executive if they just see themselves as an athlete, so we wanted to take that head on with a career development event.”
The NFLPA’s externship program saw 66 active players gain work experience this offseason at 27 different companies and organizations, ranging from Fanatics and Fox Sports to NASA and the LAPD.
The workshop featured sessions were hosted by a variety of executives, including Andrew Hawkins, a former NFL wide receiver who is now the director of business development of UNINTERRUPTED, and Carrie Leger White, chief operating office of AthLife, which helps athletes pursue academic and career goals.
NFL linebacker Brandon Chubb, one of the 24 players who participated in the workshop, said that it helped him prepare for “life after football, even while football is going on.”
“I am an athlete, and I believe in myself as that, but the ability to gain insight and exposure allows me to expand upon that – I can be multiple words and adjectives beyond just an athlete,” he said.
Asked how he would fill in his blank that followed athlete, Chubb described two of his off-the-field pursuits. He and his brother Bradley, who plays for the Denver Broncos, launched the Chubb Foundation in 2017, which he said aims to use “sports as a platform to activate human potential.” Brandon Chubb said he’s also working to open his own private equity firm by the end of 2019, and is in talks with an Austin-based business regarding an investment.
Parker said the message to players like Chubb is that by even becoming an NFL player “makes you one in a million – it takes incredible sacrifice and dedication to get to this point, so now how can you use those skills to translate to another industry?”
The NFLPA is aiming to make sure it’s highlighting the stories of players like Chubb who are pursuing their wide variety of passions off the field. For example, Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Josh Dobbs flew an F-16 fighter jet with the Air Force’s Thunderbird demonstration team this offseason; Brandon Copeland, the New York Jets linebacker, taught a financial literacy seminar at the University of Pennsylvania this spring.
Ginyard said the program will return again next February, expanding its programming and diving deeper into more engaging topics. He said the NFLPA also hopes to develop a network around the #AthleteAnd message so that players can share their personal experiences. The program may also be expanded to include athletes beyond the NFL, which could include WNBA and U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team players.
“There’s a fire drill that is inevitable when a playing career is over,” Ginyard said. “This is all about figuring out what does that second career look like, and where do your passions take you.”