NFL players go back to business school
By David Elfin
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Demetric Evans should be feeling pretty secure: The Washington Redskins' defensive end had a surprisingly productive season last year and was rewarded with a 73 percent pay raise.
But the joke among players is that NFL stands for "Not For Long." The jest makes a serious point: Pro football careers are short, the contracts aren't guaranteed and a lucrative present is a torn ACL away from being an uncertain future.
Evans knows this from experience: He sat out the 2003 season after being cut by the Dallas Cowboys.
So even though he just turned 26, Evans attended a recent executive education program at Harvard Business School along with NFL graybeards like teammate Ray Brown, 42, and Kansas City's Kendall Gammon, 36.
Redskins end Renaldo Wynn, 30, also spent three days at Harvard. Linebacker Michael Barrow, who turns 35 tomorrow, opted for a similar session at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
All told, 66 players took advantage of the program offered for the first time by the league and the NFL Players Association.
"So many young guys in this game feel they have a lot of time before football is over, but I know the NFL really is not for long," Evans said. "If I hadn't been out of the league, I might have been one of those guys who didn't think ahead. But when you've been out of the league as I have, you try to take advantage of all the opportunities the NFL offers.
"A chance to go to Harvard and learn from the best is something that no one should pass up."
Barrow, whose career is in jeopardy after he missed all of last season because of a balky knee, expressed similar sentiments.
"If Michael Jordan in his prime said he would teach you everything he knew about basketball, who wouldn't take advantage of that?" said Barrow, who has an accounting degree from Miami and might try to obtain an MBA. "This was the same thing in the business world. The more information you have, the better you are. It's one thing to gain the wealth. It's another thing to know how to use it."
NFLPA director of player development Stacey Robinson, a New York Giants receiver from 1985 to 1990, said Barrow encapsulated the point of the programs at Harvard and Wharton.
"These types of continuing education programs are part of the whole player concept that [NFLPA president Troy Vincent] talks about," Robinson said. "It's part of preparing players for life after football along with tuition reimbursement and internships. My top salary was $250,000. The economics of today's game are very different, so players are able to start their own businesses, but they don't always have the training or background to know how to run them."
While Barrow has yet to determine what he wants to do next despite more than a few offseason internships, Brown is planning to develop real estate in Memphis, Tenn., near his hometown of Marion, Ark.
"Harvard gave me some affirmation that I was doing some things right in my business dealings in terms of how I protect myself in regards to taxation, setting up a limited liability corporation and partnerships," said Brown, who's nine hours shy of his political science degree from Arkansas State. "We also learned that you're not a chump or a coward if you walk away from a deal. ... Football players are always bombarded with deals."
Robinson said the NFLPA didn't know what kind of response it would receive when the seminars were offered but was pleased to be bombarded with players wanting to take part. Many who were put on the waiting list asked to reserve spots next year.
Spokesmen at both Harvard and Wharton said their schools were pleased with the programs, and Robinson said it may be expanded to the Midwest and West Coast to make it easier for players based there to attend.
"I thought it might be like college, sitting in class being bored listening to professors lecture, but it wasn't like that," Evans said. "You were involved in class discussions. You had to defend your opinions. The great thing was there was no wrong answer."
Evans was impressed that Harvard professors had studied the NFL and discovered that New England, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Carolina, all of which reached at least a conference championship game in 2003 or 2004, had the most players with degrees. The fact that the professors claimed 96 percent of the players who get in trouble off the field didn't have their college diplomas furthered Evans' determination to go back for the nine hours he needs for his sports business degree from Georgia.
"It was huge for Demetric to be there," Brown said. "He knows this business can be very fleeting. The Redskins loved him last year when [Phil Daniels, the starting end whom Evans replaced for much of 2004] was hurt, but are they going to love him when Phil is healthy? This guy has a vision. He wants to do things beyond football."
As do all the players who trod the halls of Ivy this month.