By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) have long exemplified heritage, legacy and tradition—the very characteristics that drive their student-athletes to have a major impact on the NFL between the white lines and beyond. This is most evident in the Pro Football Hall of Fame where 10 percent of the inductees hail from the HBCU. The NFL is now partnering with the MEAC and SWAC conferences to bring students, athletes and administrators new career opportunities and open the doors for them to be a part of football at the highest level.
On Thursday, December 15th, the NFL kicked off its first Careers in Football Forum in Atlanta, Georgia. The first day of the forum was concentrated on impacting the football programs of two HBCUs who will be competing against each other in the first Bowl Game of the college football season this weekend. Grambling State University will battle North Carolina Central University in Atlanta’s Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.
The morning session was split equally by the universities and launched by a video featuring NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent. In the recording he welcomed the student-athletes, congratulated them on an excellent season and asked them to prepare to take full advantage of the information that they would soon receive.
Hall-of-Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams, a proud HBCU graduate of Southern University, is an integral part of this campaign and led off by speaking about his upbringing and highlighting the word, opportunity.
“Opportunity often stands silently by, often goes unnoticed, because initially it looks like an unfair exchange,” he said. “Most people miss opportunities because it looks like it will cost them too much. The opportunities that the National Football League will make available to HBCU students this weekend, take advantage of these. Opportunity is what God gives everybody, but not everybody takes advantage of them.”
Former NFL wide receiver and current transition coach Freddie Scott followed by asking players from each university what the game of football had provided them to this point.
They answered with education, travel, life lessons, a brotherhood and lifelong friends. However, Scott would assure them that there is much more that they could continue to get out of the game far beyond their playing days. He divulged that they were going to be exposed to career paths that deserve equal consideration—ones that they may not have even known were possible.
He introduced a panel, which boasted a wealth of knowledge from three very different perspectives within the NFL.
Jerome Boger, a thirteen-year NFL official who once quarterbacked at Morehouse College, spoke about the path that led to a spectacular career officiating NFL regular season, playoff and Super Bowl games.
The panel also included former Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer, Jr., a fourth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1996, who has spent sixteen years working in the front offices of the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs and Browns.
Falcons Director of Player Engagement Kevin Winston began his NFL career twenty years ago, and brought his viewpoint of spending each day working to develop the upstanding men underneath the jerseys.
The panel focused on the opportunities that life often unknowingly presents them and how to prepare for them with character development, communication skills, networking and personal appearance. Boger, Farmer, Jr., and Winston opened up about their career transitions, day-to-day roles and key attributes that they learned along the way.
Each panelist’s unique journey captivated players and coaches alike gaining several ovations.
“This is huge because it shows the level of importance and that the NFL truly cares about our young people,” said Broderick Fobbs, Grambling’s head football coach. “At the end of the day it is about teaching life lessons. Everyone in this room is not going to play in the National Football League, but the NFL is doing their part in really helping us to promote success in each of these guys and show that they can go pro in something.”
With the impact of the panelists inspiring stories visible on the faces of the student-athletes and coaches, the session was served back to the Hall of Famer to bring everything together. Williams did this by challenging GSU and NCCU’s programs to be prepared for each unexpected break that life, football and the NFL will provide by implementing what they had just heard.
Consistent with the theme of opportunity, he closed by using an analogy of fresh cement being poured in a neighborhood. “You couldn’t wait until they finished pouring it because you had a certain window to get famous,” Williams said. “You wanted to leave your name and handprint right? But that window of time is small and if you didn’t get it while it was still wet, it was too late.
“As it relates to playing in the National Football League, my cement is dry. But, what is awesome to each of us [panelists], what gives us joy and fulfillment is that your cement is still wet. I have no regrets because I didn’t miss my opportunities. There are some opportunities that you just don’t get again.”
The NFL’s Careers in Football Forum will continue on Friday, December 16th at the Omni Hotel for a different cast of partakers. Up to four representatives from each HBCU, both students and administrators, will be taken though a day-long program tailored with résumé and skill-building workshops. They will get a behind-the-scenes look into football operations at the Celebration Bowl and the opportunity to work with the event operations team on game day. They will also be exposed to NFL executives and hear about the opportunities available working in professional football administration.
The partnership between HBCU’s and the NFL has long been in existence, however the first annual Careers in Football Forum will foster growth in the relationship, increase diversity around the league and provide opportunities to each new class of MEAC and SWAC graduates.