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The NFL’s Sports Media Boot Camp Adds More to its Challenging Curriculum

By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider

The deepest forms of anxiety for many people would be found right in a small room with a never-before-met evaluator and a complex radio recording system linked to television monitors—especially knowing that there is no escape in sight until a presentation is perfected.

As a part of an educational experience packed with information, stiff deadlines and increasing pressure, 19 current and former NFL players endured that gauntlet, among others, on the second day of the NFL Sports Media Boot Camp at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Players undoubtedly require some form of mentorship to guide them through the challenges in getting to the pinnacle of their game and then to cement themselves atop. BGSU’s faculty and expert guest speakers are working this week to provide the same kind of support to help the players gain and maintain an elite level in various forms of sports journalism.

This year’s boot camp marks the fifth-annual gathering for the event and the first since making a change from the former Sports Journalism and Radio title. The name adjustment was made to highlight the programs marriage between its staples of written and radio journalism with the university’s highly anticipated Kuhlin Center.

The brand new building comes complete with several sound-proof recording stations, multiple computer labs, a high-tech control room and a state-of-the-art virtual reality stage for television broadcasting.

In preparing for their next phase of life, players are trading in playbooks and film study for metaphors, analogies, radio commentary and blogging—things that may not come as second nature. However, similar to their stellar work on the gridiron, taking this time in preparation will help to alleviate some pressure when it comes time to perform.

On the first full day of sessions, the NFL enlisted the services of several experts including Gerry Matalon (former ESPN Sr. Coordinating Producer of Talent Planning and Development), Howard Deneroff (Executive Vice President and Executive Producer of Westwood One Radio), Dean Blandino (NFL Sr. Vice President of Officiating) and three-time Emmy Award winner, James Brown.

Each are familiar faces to the boot camp armed with decades of knowledge, ready to provide in-depth explanations, answers to questions and critiques of the player’s work.

Also present was first-time guest speaker Michael Rothstein, who has spent the last seven years working for ESPN and exclusively covering the University of Michigan’s football team and Detroit Lions.

Lance Moore (New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions) announced his retirement from the NFL last year after a distinguished 11-year career including Super Bowl XLIV victory with the Saints. After making a career out of catching touchdown passes from Drew Brees, he introduced himself to Blandino as a retired NFL celebration specialist.

Now he is working to score big again.

“Once we retire, we are still very, very young,” Moore explained. “Any time there is an opportunity to learn more skills and work them into a next career, that is extremely important.

“It’s awesome being here with people that are actively involved with broadcasting, writing for teams and websites. That’s great to have people that are fresh in [sports media] to learn from.”

Comparable to the group of guest speakers’ supreme qualifications within journalism, Moore has experienced a rare level of success in athletics and his goal is to translate it into their territory.

“I’m really interested in getting more experience on radio and TV,” he said. “I got into that a little last season after I retired working with ESPN Radio in Sacramento. So having that experience along with coming here plus my football background—hopefully it will help me out.”

With blogging and radio commentaries wrapping up, there is plenty of work remaining for the week.

On top of writing columns and recording a podcast, they have a broadcasting segment to complete in the brand new in-studio portion of the boot camp.

Players are yet to hear from Mark Champion, the long-time play-by-play voice of the Detroit Pistons, current ESPN Radio talent and former NFL player, Michael Young (Arizona Cardinals), as well as representatives from Big Ten Network, Fox Sports Detroit and others.

This week, participants are getting a taste on the other side of the microphone and joining forces with a group some players unduly despise. With an experienced and energetic group of guest speakers, university faculty and mentors sacrificing their time, each participant will be challenged to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. New sets of challenges lie ahead in becoming efficient communicators of news, stories, opinions and engaging content.

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