An NFL career is known for its shorter-than-average shelf life, which currently stands at about 3.3 years. How do NFL players prepare for the quick pivot to life outside of professional football—a role they’ve likely been training for since childhood—and enter into the next new chapter of their lives?
As the union for professional football players, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is dedicated to helping athletes future-proof their careers—both on and off the field. And beginning today, in partnership with 2U, they’re offering players the opportunity to do just that by providing affordable and accessible pathways to relevant, high-quality online education that can lead to real, life-changing outcomes. Through a variety of interactive boot camps designed to deliver in-demand technical skills and practical short courses focused on entrepreneurship, real estate, marketing, finance, healthcare, and more, NFLPA members will have access to upskilling and reskilling learning experiences that will equip them for the post-game “season” of their lives.
Read on to learn more about the transformational impact that high-quality online education can have on the life of an NFL player from a successful athlete in his own right: Sam Young.
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Sitting alone in his car, Sam Young scanned the unfamiliar parking lot. It was his first day on a new job, but at that moment, the second-year offensive lineman couldn’t shake the reality of how he had gotten there.
“I had just been released by the team that drafted me [Dallas Cowboys], and for whatever reason, right before I was about to join my new team with the Buffalo Bills, everything became crystallized for me,” Young said of that late summer afternoon in 2011. “You hear all the time how the NFL stands for ‘Not For Long,’ but actually getting cut and then going to a new team, it hits home in a different way.”
As he prepared to enter the team facility, Young decided to call up a teammate from college and pose a simple question: What do I need to do to help prepare myself for the next step? His friend’s response reminded him of the luxury that came with being a professional football player—and it had nothing to do with the money or playing on TV.
“He said, ‘You have something that very few people enjoy—a six-month offseason to do whatever you want to do and learn whatever you want to learn. Shame on you if you don’t take advantage of it,” Young recalled. “I realized then that while football is my job and passion, there was plenty of time for me to take initiative and position myself for what comes next.”
I realized then that while football is my job and passion, there was plenty of time for me to take initiative and position myself for what comes next.— Sam Young, Offensive Tackle, Las Vegas Raiders
This advice motivated Young’s decision to enroll in a machine learning short course with the London School of Economics powered by 2U. Through this opportunity, Young, who just completed his 11th season in the NFL with the Las Vegas Raiders, was able to earn a certificate in a subject that would prepare him for a career beyond the field.
What made you want to enroll in a short course about machine learning through 2U?
The program was recommended by our team’s director of player engagement when I was with the Miami Dolphins. I was looking at a few different courses like real estate and private equity. You hear all the time about [artificial intelligence] and machine learning in the news and in books; so after talking with the 2U advisors and taking stock of my interests through the course catalog, I wanted to take a deeper dive into something that was completely foreign but very interesting to me in machine learning.
What was your experience like in the short course?
In general, it was very convenient with everything being online. There were 10 modules, and the way the modules were structured was very easy to follow. The course material was really well done, and the discussions were very interactive with the cohort that was taking the class at the same time. There was a live element to it so that, when the class was learning to program in a language that I was completely unfamiliar with, I was able to lean on the resources of the instructor along with the chat rooms and message board.
What advice would you offer to other NFL players who are thinking about their futures?
I’ve had a lot of those conversations with guys in the locker rooms I’ve been in, and I’ve echoed that same advice that I got. Of course, football is your job and you should treat it as such, but also recognize the opportunity afforded to you in the offseason. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help in whatever may interest you.
You have a certain currency in being a football player. People want to get to know you, hear about your successes and failures. If someone gets an email from John Doe who plays for this NFL team, someone is going to look at that email. It doesn’t guarantee a job, but you’re going to get some looks, and it’s those opportunities that you should be looking to take advantage of while you can.
You’ve made your name on the back of a jersey, now develop new skills to earn it on a certificate. Learn more about the educational offerings provided through the NFLPA-2U partnership here.
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