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Life After the NFL:
LSU Executive Education Hosts Former NFL Players at Personal Branding for Athletes Program

While a majority of the sports world spent the summer wondering about the future of the National Football League by following news of the NFL lockout, a group of former NFL players were focusing on their own futures by attending the "Personal Branding for Athletes: Transitioning from the NFL to Your Next Career" program, hosted by LSU Executive Education in the E. J. Ourso College of Business.

Ex-NFL Players Branding Program
LSU Executive Education hosted more than a dozen former NFL players this summer at "Personal Branding for Athletes: Transitioning from the NFL to Your Next Career."
Photo: Jim Zietz/University Relations
Video: Frank Bourgeois/University Relations

After a successful launch last year, LSU Executive Education welcomed more than a dozen NFL players to LSU over the summer for three days of networking, training and information sessions.

"We understand the value of providing these athletes with the skills they need to succeed in the business world," LSU Executive Education Director Robin Kistler said. "Part of that success means using the same drive, determination and competitiveness these athletes used as an NFL player. Demonstrating a credible and professional personal brand is one the most important tools they can use to open doors."

Transitioning from the NFL

The program, held annually in July, is designed for current and recently retired NFL players. The seminar is designed to prepare players for business success in their post-playing endeavors.

"My experience here with the personal branding program has been nothing short of amazing," said LSU alumnus Rudy Niswanger, who spent five years with the Kansas City Chiefs and recently signed with the Detroit Lions. "When you come into something like this and you don't exactly know what you want to do, what your goals are leaving the game … that is what they give you."

The program uses practical application techniques to assist participants in effectively communicating their brand to others in interviews, networking opportunities, presentations and daily interactions with business professionals.

"As an NFL player, you constantly hear things about the tough transition from NFL career to post-NFL career," Niswanger said. "It means a lot to me, because I'm passionate about that, that LSU is involved in easing that transition and working with guys and equipping them and giving them the skills and knowledge to take advantage of the opportunities that they gained from playing football."

Expert Instruction

Numerous players echoed Niswanger's remarks regarding the quality of the program and the experience they had working with LSU faculty, including LSU Marketing Instructor Tommy Karam; NFL Alumni Association representatives; and business professionals.

LSU Marketing Instructor Tommy Karam led the group through multiple seminar sessions related to personal branding during the three-day program.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

"I've been extremely impressed with the faculty here," said Larry Centers, who played for the Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. "I think a very good team was put together. I'm really impressed with Dr. Tommy [Karam]. I think he's done a great job of keeping it entertaining, while informative at the same time."

Karam led the group through multiple seminar sessions related to personal branding during the three-day program. Those sessions included "Personal Branding: Selling Yourself," "Personal Brand Presentation Preparation" and "Personal Brand Coaching."

"When I came to the professional branding program at LSU, I was expecting to walk away with a tremendous amount of information that could take me to the next level in taking advantage of my personal brand and pulling all my leverage, and I was not disappointed at all. I walked away with that and more," said Vernon Fox, who played for the San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos.

"Default Look"

One of the lessons that stuck out the most to the former players was Karam's discussion on their "default look." Karam said that in 1/24th of a second, an image can be created of someone, so he asked the players to understand their desired image versus their perceived image and to learn how to manage it. A first impression is typically traced back to a person's default look, or their natural facial expression.

"I've been very impressed [with the faculty] … just some of the things that I've taken away – learning how to control my default look. I didn't know I had a default look until I took a few lessons from the professor [Karam]," said Deke Cooper, who played for the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers.

Program Focus

"Personal Branding for Athletes" stresses that professional athletes have the opportunity to leverage their association with the NFL to launch their next career. The program is broken down to focus on three areas: personal branding, building your career and expert consulting.

Regarding personal branding, each participant's personal brand is studied, and lessons are given on how to effectively communicate that brand to others through interviews, presentations, and daily interactions with other professionals.

"Personal Branding for Athletes" uses practical application techniques to assist participants in effectively communicating their brand to others in interviews, networking opportunities, presentations and daily interactions with business professionals.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

The building your career focus provides a basic understanding of the current business environment with classes addressing concepts that form a basic knowledge to improve participant's ability to actively and confidently participate in the workplace.

Under expert consulting, participants are given access to faculty and professionals from all walks of business that are available to offer their experience to consult and develop ideas in groups and on a one-on-one basis.

"When I leave here, hopefully, I will be putting some of those things to use in making my transition from the field to off the field that much smoother," said Troy Brown, who played for the New England Patriots.

In addition to seminars on campus on networking, business lessons, Fortune 500 brand recognition and transitioning a personal brand to business, the group visited a local VooDoo BBQ restaurant to hear from one of the company's founders, LSU alumnus Tony Avila, who discussed entrepreneurship and franchising.

"The information was wonderful, but the opportunities to relate to the people that are in the marketplace, the opportunities to network and to gain other contacts in the industries that I'm interested in, those were the most valuable things that I got out of the program," said Glyn Milburn, who played for the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers.

A Support System

One of the former players who participated in a panel discussion, "The Lessons of Good Business," returned to Baton Rouge as an alumnus of the first "Personal Branding for Athletes" program held last summer. Todd Duckett, who played for the Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks, said that his life had changed since attending the seminar a year ago.

"I am more confident in who I am," he said. "I had a direction I was headed, and I didn't have confidence in the direction that I was headed and to come here, it really put my direction in perspective saying, 'This is how you create your brand.'"

Duckett, who went by the name "T.J." for most of his life, has decided to use his given name of "Todd" to show that there is more to his personal brand than just a former NFL football player. Duckett said that attending the program has shown him that he's not the only one experiencing the things he has since leaving the NFL.

"I remember thinking that I was the only person going through these situations. I remember being – before I got here – just being depressed, being alone. I felt like the minute you leave the locker room, you're no longer a player anymore; you're a bystander," said Duckett, who enjoyed making new connections with former players and is looking forward to growing those connections.

Many other players felt that the program provided a new support group for them in dealing with their transition from playing professional football to the business world.

"I'm very happy to see that I'm not the only one out there that's has to deal with some of the certain issues that I'm having to deal with," said Michael Dumas, who played for the Houston Oilers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers. "A lot of these guys that came in were very open and honest about their struggles after retiring from the game … at least I know I'm not alone, and that's going to be a support group right there."

Kolby Smith, who played for three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, said, "I'm leaving knowing that I'm not alone. There are other players in the same position as me, and I believe if we all come together, we can create something powerful."

A Collaborative Effort

The program is a collaborative effort between LSU, the Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute and the NFL Alumni Association. Former players from across the country attended as a result of scholarships from sponsors – Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Edward Jones.

"The NFL Alumni Association is developing a comprehensive career transition program to meet the specific needs of retired NFL players," said Guy Troupe, director of career and business development for the NFL Alumni Association.

Troupe, who served as a faculty member during "Personal Branding for Athletes," sees the personal branding program as one part of a multi-phased initiative to assist NFL alumni with their transition to a new career.

"Our focus is to assist former players in the development of workplace competencies needed to in the traditional world of work," he said.

LSU Executive Education and the NFL Alumni Association are working together to improve the program and offer it to more players as they transition from their playing careers into the business world.

"I'd first like to commend the NFL Alumni for getting involved and having such a program," said Ray Ellis, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns. "It's been needed for so many years … I think it's a tremendous opportunity."

Executive Education at LSU's E. J. Ourso College of Business has prepared individuals and organizations to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing workplace for nearly 50 years. For more information, visit www.executive.lsu.edu or call 225-578-1190.