By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider
The NFL vaunts an ever-diversifying fan base reaching far beyond the boundaries of the United States. This is even more evident with a sold-out crowd in Mexico this year watching the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans play the first-ever Monday night game played outside of the United States. This mixture of backgrounds is not limited only to the fans, it also plays out in team locker rooms and front offices everyday.
The NFL’s Careers in Football Forum, which wrapped up in Atlanta on Saturday, December 17th, speaks again to the opportunities and the inclusion that sports can create.
The forum was a result of a partnership between the MEAC and SWAC conferences, and the NFL. The goal is to provide Historically Black Colleges and University athletes and entry-level athletic administrators a chance to go places that they have not gone before. They were able to connect with some of the leagues most powerful people on a personal level. Not just to simply collect business cards but also, to learn, discover new opportunities and then find out exactly how to capitalize on them.
Four representatives from each of the conferences’ schools, and the football programs of Grambling State University and North Carolina Central University were the beneficiaries of the first-annual event.
The diversity that the NFL is striving to bring in matches the variety of prospective career options that were offered to participants during the week. They spent time absorbing knowledge from 16 guest speakers about careers within clubs, personal branding, appearance and the path into NFL officiating. They were able to ask questions and network themselves with team presidents, general managers and key decision makers from several league departments.
This may sound like a one sided partnership, however that could not be further from the truth.
“It’s a sharing of talents—talents that have been developed at the Gramblings, at the North Carolina Centrals, at the Morgan States,” explained Troy Vincent, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations. “Allowing us to tap into the talents and gifts that the institutions have produced, then allowing those gifts to be shared and blossom on our rosters, in our business units, in our marketing arms and at the club level. It’s a mutual partnership.”
Both the NFL and the conferences’ students are grateful for the time that they were able to share, and the connections made. With each having much to offer, the benefits of the first career forum are already evident and will certainly continue to expand.
“People may not understand that this is an attainable goal, and others are just limited by resources,” said John Quinones, the NFL’s Director of Talent Acquisition. “Growing up, I didn’t understand all of these opportunities were available to me. Now I look at it as a way to pay it back a little bit. I am really passionate about providing opportunity.”
The students, athletes and administrators were provided a multitude of ways to effectively communicate and be productive in their approach toward getting positions at the professional sports level.
“For [the NFL] to host this event and reach out to us, is definitely big,” said Twarn Mixson, a Hampton University, first-year graduate student and member of the football team. “A lot of people from HBCU’s don’t get this opportunity. Some of us don’t get acknowledgment from larger companies especially a brand as big as the NFL, so this is a blessing.”
The NFL was provided with a crop of young, motivated individuals whose desire for success is driven by the passion for their universities and all of those who paved the way before them.
“The exposure for these young people is phenomenal,” said Ted Crews, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Vice President of Communications and an HBCU graduate of South Carolina State University. “There is something to be said for knowing and seeing people that have walked in [HBCU student’s] shoes and walked the same paths. You don’t have to go to Harvard or Yale, even though those are great institutions, you can go to South Carolina State, Hampton or Bethune-Cookman and still work in the NFL.”
After hearing from several panelists on Friday, participants collaborated with Nadia Clendening, the Relationship Manager for one of the world’s fastest-growing networking sites, LinkedIn. They worked on creating strong personal profiles and the most successful ways to use the LinkedIn platform in the job application process.
Following the presentation, attendees enjoyed an open invitation to speak individually with the day’s guest speakers, ask questions and exchange contact information. Then it was off to the Georgia Dome.
At the Dome they went on a tour of the facility and got a behind-the-scenes look at ESPN setting up for Saturday’s Celebration Bowl where Grambling State University and North Carolina Central University, the MEAC and SWAC conference champs, will clash.
Sunday, the Careers in Football Forum closed with HBCU students, athletes and administrators having the opportunity to volunteer with game day operations, receiving a first-hand experience with the production of a nationally televised football game.
The positive impact left by the forum will leave the NFL and the MEAC and SWAC conferences eager for the next opportunity to come together. The mutual relationships will open doors for each party that may have never been achieved separately. Together, the possibilities are unlimited.