NFL homecomings geared toward alumni

Not often is the NFL looked at as a family, what with concussion

lawsuits and lockouts.

Troy Vincent is trying to change that through the league’s

player engagement initiatives, including its new ”Legends

Program” and a series of homecomings for former players.

It’s something the former All-Pro cornerback is passionate

about. A one-time president of the NFL Players Association and now

the league’s senior vice president of player engagement, Vincent

oversees a myriad of programs open to anyone who spent even just a

training camp in an NFL uniform.

”It’s to celebrate the accomplishment of you being here,

whether you were a starter or a nonstarter, had a 15-year career or

just a short while in the league,” Vincent told The Associated

Press. ”It’s irrelevant how long it was, you represented the

sideline.”

Vincent and his NFL department are reaching out to former

players, establishing a database for where they are and what they

are doing. Already, more than 1,150 names have been added to the

database, including many men who had not had contact with the

league for years, maybe even decades.

By establishing a group of former players to develop, foster and

manage alumni relations under the Legends banner, Vincent believes

the league can establish a stronger relationship with a larger

segment of retired players.

He insists that’s necessary, allowing the NFL to educate

retirees on the programs they could take advantage of – everything

from commercial relationships to advocacy endeavors to alumni

functions.

”This is not just about establishing a database, it is about

being connected and staying connected to our game,” Vincent says.

”How can you become an active contributor to our game when you are

not playing and the fans are not cheering for you? We want to give

you a welcome feeling, have you share your experiences, tell us how

we can support what you are doing.”

A recent homecoming event in Manhattan drew approximately 30

ex-players. Former New York Giants center Bart Oates found the

gathering ”therapeutic” and believes the idea has legs.

”I like being able to connect with guys you played with or

contemporaries who have the same life experiences on and off the

field,” said Oates, now an attorney and realtor. ”There’s a lot

of commonality. You talk to other guys, find out what they are

doing.

”In a sense in some cases, making the transition from football

is somewhat lonely. You’re used to accolades and team support and

having a goal and a mission, and suddenly it is gone and you don’t

not have that same sense of urgency. So this is needful in some

cases, and helpful to have this kind of relationship.”

The homecomings are not designed to replace alumni functions run

by the 32 clubs, but to supplement them. In this time of labor

peace in the NFL, with the lockouts of the players (2011) and game

officials (2012) behind the league, Vincent notes that there is no

leveraging involved in these programs. The impetus is purely to

encourage support of former players whether it’s at the club or

league level.

Former Patriots linebacker Ed Reynolds is both an NFL ambassador

and NFL Legends coordinator. He sees these programs as

essential.

”It starts off simply as recognizing guys who played and here

are the things we have to let you know about, information and

opportunities that are there for the former players and how to get

engaged,” said Reynolds, who retired in 1992 and has been an

athletic director and assistant dean of students at Hickory Grove

Christian School in Charlotte, N.C. ”The networking is

outstanding.”

”You know, we see stories about what has happened to players

who lost their money, but there are a lot of guys who have been

very successful, whether in business or whatever avenues they

worked in,” he added. ”It lets other guys know we’ve been through

it, and if you are ready to go through a transition, talk to this

guy or that guy. We’re all brothers and we want to see all the

brothers do well.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org