NFL Program trains players for life after football

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Professor Mori Taheripour teaches some of the nation's brightest students as a lecturer in the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department of the University of Pennsylvania's world-renowned Wharton School of business. One of the highlights of her year comes over a four-day period when she gets to teach a group of about 30 "dream students."

These aspiring businessmen diligently read sometimes hundreds of pages a night to prepare for the next day's lectures, and stay long after class to review material with teaching assistants. The students, she said, are enthusiastic and engaged, motivated yet humble. They are also professional football players.

Taheripour teaches these athletes at the Wharton branch of the NFL's Business Entrepreneurial Program, a service that gives NFL players the opportunity to take a wide array of business classes at some of the nations' premier business schools during the off-season. She called the Wharton program, which typically lasts four days, a "mini-MBA," and marveled at the players' ability to stay focused in class from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"They never cease to amaze me," said Taheripour, who stays in touch with many of the players she has taught over the years. She mostly recently met up with Steelers linebacker James Farrior two weeks ago when he and a friend were visiting Washington D.C.

Taheripour said she wished more of her NFL students' stories made the headlines so often riddled with tales of players' various transgressions. "I don't know if what we see [in the media] really reflects the type of students we see in these programs."

The Business Entrepreneurial Program's main goal is to teach players the complexities of business so they are prepared when approached with opportunities, according to NFL Director of Player Development Christopher Henry. It is one of the many ways the NFL's Player Development Department helps players prepare for -- and transition into -- life after football.

"[The Business Entrepreneurial Program] opened our eyes to what's really going on outside in the business world," said Farrior, who participated in this year's program. "The main thing we got out of that is don't get involved in something you really don't understand. Just like some guy trying to play NFL football coming off the street, that's going to be tough. So you have to do your homework and make sure everything is legitimate."

The NFL also offers various internship programs -- including coaching internships with both professional and college teams -- and a four-day Broadcast Boot Camp program at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J., that teaches players about careers in broadcasting. There, at this year's session later this month, players such as the Steelers' Charlie Batch and Hines Ward will prepare scripts before filming mock scenes, get critiqued by on-air veterans such as CBS's James Brown and ESPN's Ron Jaworski, and conduct live interviews with each other. The NFL's newest service, the Career Transition Program, a four-day event at Georgia Tech geared toward helping players transition into the business world, began Monday.

Former Steelers tight end Mark Bruener, who played in the NFL for 14 season, is a veteran of the NFL's career transition programs.

With help from the NFL, Bruener completed his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Washington while juggling the responsibilities of having a family.

Bruener, who works for a merchandise and apparel branding company in Seattle and owns real estate holdings in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, participated twice in the Business Entrepreneurial Program, and said he is excited to continue learning at the Career Transition Program. He said the newest service provided by the NFL shows that it cares about players even after they are out of the league.

"Lots of current and former NFL players are astute businessmen who are planning for life after football, have the skills to be productive, and just need a little nudge, a little encouragement," he said. "I think that's what [the Career Transition Program] is hoping to do."

Soon after its creation in 1991, Player Development began offering internship opportunities, programs geared toward teaching players to manage their finances and prepare for off-the-field challenges they might face, as well as resources to help players go back to school and complete their college degrees.

The NFL subsidizes the cost of the Broadcast Boot Camp and Career Transition programs minus travel expenses, while the Business Entrepreneurial program costs $6,500. The league also pays up to $15,000 per year for players to go back to school, although this benefit is not offered in the current uncapped season as per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Player Development asks athletes to submit applications for the various off-season programs it offers, which, Henry said, conforms with the goal of helping players understand what life will be like outside of football.

"[The work environment] is competitive outside of football just like it is inside," Henry said. "That's why we instituted the application process, to instill a frame of mind of 'I'm going to have to work at this, too ... I'm going to have to be prepared.'"

Henry said his office has to turn away applicants because there is not enough space to accommodate every interested player.

"That suggests to us that we're doing the right things," he said. "We want to make sure it's a selective process -- that's what the world's about. There's competition all over -- we want to prepare them for the competition that exists outside of football."

With two Pro Bowl selections already behind him, Farrior, 35, said he is already thinking about life after the NFL.

"[It's definitely] something you need to think about, me being an older player," said Farrior, who participated in this year's Business Entrepreneurial Program. "This is my 14th year, so I know I can't play forever. I'm just trying to try a little bit of everything and get a feel for what I might like [after football]."


Chris Merriman: cmerriman@post-gazette.com


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