Professional football players work their entire lives to achieve greatness. While few will become Super Bowl champions and even fewer will be honored with a Hall of Fame induction, recognizing them as one of the best of all time, spending a few years in the league is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work. When their careers are over, many are left with an empty feeling on what to do next.
On Wednesday, the Atlanta Falcons hosted more than 60 current and former players, many of which play or played for the franchise, for the first of a two-day career and franchising symposium in downtown Atlanta.
The first of its kind led by a single franchise, the symposium is designed to give players the opportunity to learn how to transition from playing football to earning a living a little more similarly to what their fans do on a daily basis. In addition to presentations from business such as State Farm, Adidas and UPS, the players were given the opportunity to participate in mock interviews designed to give them immediate feedback to help them in their hunt.
On Thursday, they will sit down with potential employers for real interviews and many will the symposium employed.
"We are trying to be the extension for what's already in place for players," said Kevin Winston, the Falcons' Senior Director of Player Development. "The NFL programs have things for current guys and a transition program and this is something that allows players to take that next step and find their next career."
For many players, a life of football has ended and the opportunity to chase the football-playing dream is no longer there. A sudden end to a career can be a challenge for those that want to continue to work and give their life a purpose.
"It gives guys something to look forward and for guys still playing, something to look forward to after their career," said Jason Webster, former Falcons cornerback and the team's chaplain. "For the guys that are retired, it gives guys hope to progress in a career that can help them and their families."
The idea of hope was presented to the players and the goal is to help them understand what comes next for them, but Wednesday is just the culmination of a number of months worth of effort.
Players in attendance sent Winston and his staff their resumes weeks ago and they worked to specifically tailor those resumes to the companies in attendance at the symposium. Everything from business opportunities and franchise ideas to specific job opportunities are available for the players at the symposium.
What many players learned as they listened to presenters throughout Wednesday and during their mock interviews is that they're not just uniquely qualified to play football. Many of the characteristics that helped make them great in the game or helped them get to the NFL are in play in the job market and that's what the symposium is designed to help the players understand.
Qualities like being dedicated to be the best and working with the discipline needed to achieve a high level of performance are exactly the kind of things employers want to see in their job candidates and football players have that to offer. Their experience as a functioning member of a team will allow them to fit well with companies.
"I think their talents make a great correlation to what happens in the business world and what these guys have achieved to this point in their career," Winston said.
Coy Wire, former Falcons linebacker and special teamer and the symposium's emcee, told the players gathered that while they played in the NFL they always schemed for greatness. The career and franchise symposium is about helping them continue to scheme for such greatness, just in a different line of work.
The scheme has changed for many of them, but the tactics are the same. They need a plan and they need to work that plan to take the next step in their career, just like they did from high school to college and from college to the pros, just like everyone else.
The Falcons are leading the way in helping turn a challenging transition in a player's life into something empowering and something they can control.
"The great thing about working for the Atlanta Falcons and for Arthur Blank, Rich McKay, Thomas (Dimitroff) is that they allow us to think outside of the box," Winston said. "Nothing's been done like this before. Now we're doing something for the former guys and even current players who are trying to invest in themselves during the offseason."