Thirty-two National Football League (NFL) players traded football jerseys and jockstraps for books and classes last week as part of a program at Harvard Business School (HBS) designed to help NFL players enter the business world after their sports careers end.
“Football is unique among professional sports,” said Ted Johnson of the New England Patriots at a press conference held Thursday at HBS. “We’re not guaranteed contracts and we can’t plan our financial futures.”
The players, including Freddie Mitchell of the Philadelphia Eagles and Greg Comella of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spent April 5-8 learning through HBS’s case method system while getting a taste of college life as they attended classes and workshops.
Because players are coming out of college and entering the NFL earlier and earlier, fewer retiring players have college degrees, according to Michael Haynes, the NFL’s Vice President of Player and Employee Development.
The NFL introduced a tuition reimbursement program that gives active players grants of up to $15,000 a year to continue their undergraduate studies or attend graduate school, Haynes said. The NFL used money from this program to fund the HBS program.
Haynes said that both the tuition reimbursement program and the NFL’s rapport with the nation’s business schools are expected to expand.
Haynes added that there are already over 120 players interested in an HBS-style program for next year.
Tony Richardson of the Kansas City Chiefs has taken advantage of the tuition reimbursement program at the undergraduate and graduate levels, obtaining his MBA from Webster.
He said at the conference he is a big advocate of taking advantage of the resources the NFL offers players and likes to see players working together.
“We need to pool our resources together,” Richardson joked at the conference, “because unfortunately not all of us have three Superbowl rings” like Johnson.
While some players are just testing out the waters, others such as Dhani Jones of the Philadelphia Eagles, have already entered the business world.
At the conference, Jones said he hopes the program will help him refine the business aspect of his bow tie company.
The workload was a bit shocking at first, players said at the press conference. Collins recounted how some of his classmates would stay up until two in the morning discussing cases.
But while the work was difficult at times, Jones joked at the conference that he enjoyed dropping the H-bomb.
“Now when people ask me where I went to school I can say that I went to Michigan State and then I went to Harvard. I’m going to have to buy a sticker for my car and get a couple of sweatshirts,” Jones said.
Players will spend the next month writing proposals for potential business plans. They will return to the HBS campus on May 9 to finish up the program and get feedback about their proposed business plans.