"Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter in jail on charge of felonious assault."
I know what you think when you see headlines like that. You shake your head or maybe shrug your shoulders about another football player getting in trouble with the law.
I know because of the comments my friends make and the questions they ask.
"Are these guys all just idiots?"
"Does the NFL even really care? I mean, there's always another guy they can plug in, right?"
The common perception is that a large percentage of NFL players are bad people and that the league is a factory just chewing these guys up and spitting them out when their talent can no longer provide it with value. But, from my point of view, that's wrong.
I know it's wrong because I've seen it from every level. I've seen it as a player, as a moderator of the NFL's Rookie Symposium, and as a frequent participant in the many programs the NFL offers to both active and former players.
I won't even get into the quality of the character of most NFL players. Take a look at how many guys actually get in trouble, not just the sporadic headlines you see like Hunter's. It's a very small percentage of the whole league. What does need further explaining, though, is what resources are available to help. Heck, even a lot of players aren't even aware of everything that is available to them.
First there's the aforementioned symposium, which is a comprehensive job orientation program. The NFL provides rookies with valuable information and resources during their time in the league (and, yes, they do discuss concussion risk there). That is bolstered by the weekly Rookie Success Program led by each team's player engagement director that builds on what they learned at the symposium.
There are also business management programs available to all players, like the ones I took part in at Harvard and Wharton business schools. There is no doubt in my mind that the latter program, in particular, had a positive impact on the athletic recruiting business that I started my final year in the NFL.
Then there's the specialty programs available like the Broadcast Boot Camp (I currently have a number of jobs in the media that really started with the network executives I met at that program back in 2007), along with the internships, job shadows, etc., that players can sign up for through their player engagement director.
More recently, I found out about the Player's Trust, which is a byproduct of the latest CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA. Every year, $22 million goes into a trust to fund programs like a comprehensive physical, background checks, financial education and business programs like the Entrepreneurship 301 class that I recently attended at Babson College to try to help take Go Big Recruiting to the next level. All of these programs are free.
The only issue, believe it or not, is spreading the word about these programs and sometimes getting players to elect to participate. I wasn't aware of the Legends Community, an NFL venture whose sole goal is to bring former players back in the NFL community to make them feel welcome, until fellow Princeton Tiger Keith Elias told me about it recently.
Even the Trust is just now starting to really catch fire among NFL alums after more than 1,100 players enrolled in the program in year one, according to executive director Bahati Van Pelt.
The funny thing is none of my friends really knew about the business of the NFL, or the fact that these are human beings getting released, traded, etc., until they experienced it through me. They've told me it totally changed how they view things.
Hopefully they won't be the only ones.