By John Ingoldsby, Player Engagement Insider
The NFL’s growing global brand just got bigger thanks to an Oakland Raider who wowed the massive China market by speaking their language during an internship there.
Linebacker James Cowser, who learned Mandarin Chinese during an earlier two-year mission in Hong Kong, took the country by storm when he worked recently at the NFL’s China office in Shanghai, elevating both his and the league’s name in the country of 1.3 billion people.
“I did a video there where I spoke in both Chinese and English, and afterwards local people were coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re James Cowser,’ and then tagging me in photos by posting, ‘Look who I saw in Shanghai,’” he said. “We were taking pictures of me in my helmet and full uniform in front of famous locales in Shanghai, so it was great to have people recognize me there as a real American football player, which doesn’t always happen in the States.”
But his fluent Mandarin was just a small sampling of how Cowser connected with the local population to promote the game during his two-week stint of non-stop activity, highlighted by growing football from the ground up through grassroots development and outreach.
“This may have been the best part of my internship as we worked with both kids and adults in conducting a lot of camps with drills, competition and charity work to start them young,” explained the 26-year old rookie in referring to the interaction with NFL Play 60 partners, NFL FLAG programs and local football education development programs to ignite interest and sustain long-term growth.
Interest that cast a wide net as the former Southern Utah star, who set the NCAA FCS record with 43.5 sacks, went beyond the borders of Shanghai.
“I also ventured out to surrounding suburban schools by taking the high-speed train that goes 250 miles per hour, and had some great sessions with the kids there,” noted the 2015 FCS Defensive Player of the Year.
But teaching the game led to a learning experience for the 6’3” 244-pounder, who became the first player to intern with NFL China and the first Raider to complete an internship abroad.
“The whole experience was so interesting and super-cool, and I got an inside look at how the Chinese, who are the best people, learn and see the game, since their responsiveness to us was fantastic with questions about players like (New England Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady and (Seattle Seahawks cornerback) Richard Sherman,” Cowser said..
All of which explains the NFL’s Shanghai office tackling topics from potential development of a local professional league and content for www.NFLChina.com, and Chinese social media sites, to fan outreach and engagement, and possibly even playing a future game there.
However, it all begins at the ground level with work from people like Cowser.
“I am very grateful to the League’s Player Engagement department for arranging my internship, and the Shanghai staff is so good at what they do and are some of the hardest working people I have seen,” Cowser observed.
But it wasn’t all work, as he mixed in some fun with his games.
“Even though I was rolling every day with NFL activities, I also got to sample the local culture by seeing Shanghai, a spectacular city with temples that are 1,500 years old and modern structures like The Oriental Pearl Tower,” he said. “I also ate lots of delicious local food and even took a Kung Fu class.”
John Ingoldsby is the President and Founder of IIR Sports, Inc. a sports media firm based in Boston. He has covered the NFL throughout his career that began as a newspaper reporter/editor, which includes articles in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine (NFL Player Engagement), London-based Financial Times newspaper (NFL's international strategy), the Philadelphia Daily News (annual NFC Coaches Breakfast) and the Boston Globe (Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll).