The Second Act
By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider
First Published on NFLPlayerEngagement.com
The better part of a professional football player’s life is taxed with lifting weights, studying x’s and o’s, and using all of his physical effort to earn a spot onto the NFL’s gridiron come Sunday. A small group of current and former NFL players were challenged to take a step back to analyze the game we relish in a way that doesn’t require a helmet, jersey or pads. Removed from my comfort zone, I spent four days doing something completely different than what I have spent so many years of my life training for. The 2016 NFL Sports Journalism and Radio Boot Camp provided a conduit into a new professional domain—to refine my techniques, and learn lessons of a different kind within the same vein of what I love.
NFL Player Engagement set the stage for the boot camp with an all-star cast of guest speakers and leading professors at Bowling Green State University from April 14-17. Through an application process, I and twelve other current and former NFL players of all backgrounds were accepted onto BGSU’s campus for four days. The event was mediated and led by Dick Maxwell, a graduate of the university and retired NFL Senior Director of Broadcasting.
New guest speakers were present each day from many of the major networks including ESPN, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, The Big Ten Network and also The New York Times. For me, this developmental and networking experience was a must-do in hopes of joining my appetite for sports and learning to my interest in journalism.
Lessons, both on life and journalism, came frequently from Gerry Matalon, who spent twenty-eight years coaching and developing on-air personnel as an executive for ESPN. He made himself available to the attendees for the duration of the boot camp. He highlighted, in the first night, that each form of journalism requires a quality that makes it work. He stated that for radio, we would have to be a storyteller, create an image. For TV, we would have to be captivating and dynamic. For social media, we would have to be clever in order to be interesting in only 140 characters. “But the key is, if you want to really make it, you need to have some form of all of these,” Matalon said.
This statement came in light of the point made by Maxwell and ESPN’s Jason Romano that things are constantly evolving. “Journalism has changed dramatically, you’ve got to do a little of everything,” explained Romano, who was another key member of the boot camp and its effectiveness. He brings a side of humble savvy from the sports network, where he’s spent the last sixteen years and now oversees digital media strategy and content. The speakers emphasized that there are many different multimedia options available to share our content now versus how things were done just five years ago.
During the course of the four days, many others invested their time just like Romano, Matalon and Maxwell—in the forefront and behind the scenes—in order to make this an informative, challenging and impressive event.
Four of the major assignments worked on by attendees included: writing and recording radio commentary, writing a feature story on the state of officiating in the NFL, composing a blog, and writing a column. Each assignment was designed to offer a variety of tests to identify our individual strengths. The highpoint for me was being chosen to be a part of panel selected to speak to BGSU’s football team, mediated by Brian Baldinger, a retired, thirteen-year NFL offensive lineman entering his tenth season as an analyst and reporter for the NFL Network. We, the panel, spoke to the team telling our stories as players of where we came from, the opportunity that they each have, and the expectations and challenges navigated both on and off the field, if success is to be achieved.
There were other aspects of the weekend that were not solely focused on writing and sports journalism, such as an incredible dinner boasting the meats of the best cuts, a litany of sides and salads, and great camaraderie. Dinner was hosted at the residence of the impassioned president of Bowling Green State University, Mary Ellen Mazey. The boot camp also hosted a bowling competition on the last night where players, professors, student ambassadors and guest speakers squared off against each other in teams at Al-Mar Lanes.
The NFLPE put us athletes in a humbled position few are fortunate to experience, accelerating our development in journalism and radio while being able to rub shoulders with decision-makers connected to many of the major sports networks. They joined us with a group of people that have mountains of knowledge and more importantly, the desire to share it.
“When you’ve been fortunate enough to achieve and experience different things,” Matalon said, “it is a duty to pay it forward and make someone else better.”
That is my hope—to better position myself in the world of sports journalism with the information and connections I have taken away from this experience and pass them along to someone else when the opportunities are presented. Where you start in life and where you finish are always two different places, sometimes miles apart, and in the transition from player to sports journalism, the boot camp was a welcome bridge along the way.
Vince Agnew is a former NFL cornerback who was signed by the Miami Dolphins in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan University. He spent the 2012 season with the Dallas Cowboys. He also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs.