It's not always easy for a football player to ask a question during a film session. There's the fear of ridicule from teammates who are hoping to get the meeting moving, or scorn from coaches who might not think the player is paying enough attention. Plus, a professional athlete has an ego that forces him to believe he's already got all the answers, if not the means to later find them on his own.
The NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program was put in place to assist players with their post-playing careers, and it helps them make the transition from professional athlete to a potential businessman. It's a crash-course program than spans a few days every February, and 77 NFL players completed the course last week.
New England Patriots offensive lineman Mark LeVoir has enrolled in the program during each of the last two offseasons. In 2009, he attended the program at Harvard Business School, and last week, he took the four-day session at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
The courses offer a variety of useful lessons, such as spotting a scam, how to ask the right questions in meetings and how to manage your ego in these situations. The classes are designed to relate to professional athletes, and they've gotten great reviews from the 502 NFL players who have participated in the program since its inception in 2005.
"Unfortunately, football is going to end some day," LeVoir said. "We all can't be like Junior [Seau] and play for 20 years. If I could, I would, but you've got to start thinking what's next for you after football. Hopefully, that's a long time from now, but in that transition period, what are you going to do? Do I want to go back to school? Is that something I'm interested in. They're kind of keeping me up to speed of what's really going on with the business world. I'm so far removed from it from my graduating class in college."
LeVoir graduated from Notre Dame in 2005 with a degree in anthropology, and he took graduate classes during his redshirt season after that. He signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free-agent in 2006 and signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2007 before hitching on with the Patriots in 2008.
He said the NFL program does a great job of keeping the players up to speed with modern-day business practices and refreshes them on classes they might have taken in college. LeVoir doesn't have any specific post-playing plans, but he wants to be fully prepared when that day arrives.
The program has already stoked a small fire in LeVoir, who didn't anticipate taking any more business classes after the Harvard session. Yet, he decided to jump into the Wharton program, and he said on Monday he'll make sure to take classes every offseason for the remainder of his career.
Since NFL players make so much money and enjoy the public spotlight, they’re easy targets. LeVoir said he is often approached about business ventures, and the Wharton program spends a good portion of time teaching players how to squash a scammer.
"Really, the biggest thing in the business world [is] don’t trust anyone," LeVoir said. "Myself and a lot of other players get approached with business ideas all the time. The actual ratio of them that actually are successful and how many schemes and stuff are out there is relative. It's not that I was naïve about it, but that was just the most shocking thing. How do you really trust people? How do you really go about background checking people? What are the questions and certain things you should ask when people approach you?"
"If you think it's too good to be true, it probably is. The biggest thing especially that I've learned is don't be afraid to say no, or if you don't understand something, don't be afraid to say you don’t understand. We kind of think as football players it kind of hurts your ego or whatever if you're like, 'Well, I don’t get it.' It’s OK to say that."
For now, LeVoir plans to focus strictly on football, and he doesn't plan on embarking into the business world until after his career. Some athletes are able to manage both at the same time, like former Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who owns two UPS stores in Indianapolis with his wife.
LeVoir doesn't want to worry about managing a business and build up the trust in a suitable partner. That, he said, is what these classes are for.
"It's more or less to lay the groundwork," LeVoir said. "Hopefully, I can build a network between Harvard and Wharton, bounce things off, and have resources that I didn't have before, as well as the knowledge I didn't have before to make the best decisions for my best interest later. That's really what I'm looking for."