|08-04-2008, 10:40 PM|
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Ruth Baum Bigus: Chiefs’ player development program offers playbook for life
Chiefs’ player development program offers playbook for life
By RUTH BAUM BIGUS
Special to The Star
With the Chiefs’ first preseason football game just days away, Rudy Niswanger is focused on the business at hand: scrimmaging, studying the Chicago Bears, fine-tuning the offense.
But the Chiefs’ starting center also is minding his own business.
Through the Chiefs’ player development program, Niswanger spent a portion of the offseason learning about finances and investing.
“Anything we can do to expand our knowledge beyond X’s and O’s will help us,” said Niswanger.
“It can do nothing but increase our potential as an employee and employer after football is over for us.”
The 13-year-old program, started and operated by Lamonte Winston, has helped more than 260 Chiefs prepare for life after football.
“My job is to help them develop as people,” Winston said
And he means business.
In fact, several former Chiefs players — Eddie Kennison, Tony Richardson and Kendall Gammon, to name a few — have built businesses and careers based at least partly on the foundation laid by Winston’s program.
“I have a knowledge advantage over the other guys” who did not participate, said Kennison, who has ownership interests in a local real estate company, an appraisal firm and a wine club, plus two medical imaging facilities in Dallas.
“We basically got all the tools we needed to be businessmen,” he said.
There wasn’t a lot of interest when Winston started the Chiefs’ program in 1995.
A scout at the time, Winston was asked to review a 12-minute video from the NFL on player programs and then told to develop something.
“But if it took more than 12 percent of my time, that was too much,” he recalled.
After attending an NFL seminar on the programs, Winston sold Chiefs management — including general manager Carl Peterson and then-coach Marty Schottenheimer. — on committing to a comprehensive program, one of the league’s first.
Today, all 32 NFL teams have player development programs tailored to their players’ needs.
The Chiefs’ program has four major elements:
•Financial education, including for the first time this year a 13-session “pro series” featuring guest speakers.
•Player and family assistance from a network of professionals to help players cope with challenges such as relationships, addictive behaviors and substance abuse.
All parts of the voluntary program are considered critical.
“I have always been of the opinion that it’s important for us to help our players become better men. If they’re better men, they will be better players, better husbands and better fathers,” said head coach Herm Edwards. “Lamonte is very instrumental in helping our players in this regard,”
And with the average NFL career lasting just four years, according to the league, it makes sense that players might want to get a taste of the business world before they are thrust into it for good.
That often starts with education.
As part of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, veterans are eligible to receive up to $15,000 annually in tuition reimbursement.
“That money can be used for traditional education and to go for master’s programs or other educational opportunities to enhance his skill set off the field,” Winston said. “Everything is yes to me. … I’m always trying to find ways to help the players. If a guy wants to go participate in a real estate school, he can apply and have it approved by the NFL.”
Every year, two or three players finish their college degrees through the program.
Internships have been a cornerstone of the Chiefs’ effort since the beginning.
This offseason, seven rostered players — including Rashad Barksdale, Tre Stallings and Oliver Hoyte — worked at First National Bank, Metro Sports, ERA Manning Real Estate, the National Center for Fathering, the NFL or the Chiefs.
“Participating in an internship gives them confidence that they belong in another environment besides football,” Winston said.
Barksdale, a cornerback in his second season with the team, interned with Metro Sports and jumped into the action.
“They taught me how they produce video clips for their news, and I got to do my own video clips,” Barksdale said. “I actually went out to a high school game and interviewed an athlete of the week.”
Former Chiefs fullback Richardson, now with the New York Jets, worked in several internships in the early days of the program in 1996.
“I sat down with Lamonte, and we actually created internships for me to participate in,” said Richardson, who spent 11 seasons in a Chiefs uniform.
Richardson worked at the local NBC affiliate and in the Chiefs front office in sales and marketing. In the morning he would attend offseason training and in the afternoon don a coat and tie to sell the Chiefs as a product to local sponsors.
“I really got to see how the game operated from the business side,” said Richardson, who also earned an MBA while playing football and participates in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program (see sidebar).
Today, Richardson is part owner of the 810 Zone restaurant in Leawood and oversees his own rental properties in Kansas City.
“As an NFL player we’re trained to say ‘Put me in the game’ and not sit on the sideline, but sometimes in business it’s OK to sit on the sidelines and wait for the right opportunity,” he said. “I’ve learned to do my due diligence and how to evaluate a business plan. It’s kept me from getting into some risky investments and helped me keep my money in my pocket.”
The Legacy connection
Legacy Financial Group, a financial planning firm in Overland Park, offers selected Chiefs players four levels of financial management classes.
“We teach them about money, products and career goals in the industry,” said Salvatore Lavely, president of Legacy. “We educate them about working in the banking business, brokerage firm or a more comprehensive program. They start out by doing a budget, and many are shocked about accounting for every dollar they’ve spent in 30 days.”
Former Chiefs player Jeff Tupper, who is with Legacy, created the classes several years ago based on a similar effort by the San Diego Chargers.
The 2008 offseason was Niswanger’s second year in the Legacy classes.
“If I play for a decade, I may go into something else,” said Niswanger, who has been accepted to medical school.
“I’m not going to be the CEO of Sprint, but I’m better prepared. When we’re done playing, we’ll be familiar with the business world, and we’ve networked and rubbed shoulders with people who can be good for advice.”
Offensive tackle Will Svitek is using his Legacy stint in another way.
“I still do my own financial planning … and Legacy has helped me understand things better,” he said.
|08-04-2008, 10:59 PM||#2|
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|08-05-2008, 01:30 AM||#3|
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