When I welcomed you last April to the metaphoric “New NFL Training Camp” that helps get players in prime condition for the game of life after pro football, I told you two things that you can take to the bank. Just to remind you, that April 2012 article was the inaugural piece of a three-part Access Athletes series about how the process of transitioning out of the NFL can be made relatively seamless to help all eligible players preserve sound physical, mental, and financial health after hanging up their cleats. 
The first “bankable” wisdom nugget that I shared with you in part one is embodied in the following observations that I made: 
"As promising as it has been that some of us have pinpointed the struggling athletes’ core psychological stumbling blocks, though, the real solution to this athletes’ career-transitioning problem is to teach them how to control their own destinies. It’s certainly a step in the right direction to focus on the death-like experience of athletic retirement, but merely discovering the issue of one-dimensional self-identity isn’t nearly enough. Even when we factor in coming from poverty into money along with being coddled from an early age as major contributors to the explanation of poor decision-making behaviors, it’s still not enough.”
Meanwhile, the second sure thing that I told you is that a growing number of sports industry experts share my assessment of and approach to solving this extremely urgent and devastating player career-transitioning problem. The following quoted section of my part-one article reveals the core of the problem-solving action approach that I’m advocating with the full support of the entire Access Athletes team.
"The best way to improve how we utilize the teaching resources that have so far been made available to players is also frighteningly simple. At the college level (and now high school for bona fide blue chippers), and then again at the pro rookie pre-entry stage, athletes must be subjected to intensive ongoing training programs designed to show them how to view themselves in more holistic ways. Such programs must also help the athletes to develop expertise with transferring their athletic thought processes to their off-the-field challenges and obligations.
Who can provide this education for the athletes, many of whom may not yet be ready to listen without what they’d consider to be a compelling incentive? Well, it’s clear to me that forward-thinking agents, colleges, and pro teams, working closely with organizations like Access Athletes to design and implement these programs, could start a revolution of wellness and stellar citizenship in pro sports.” 
One of the sports industry’s rising media stars, who clearly also recognizes both the potential economic and social benefits of agencies building formal career transitioning preparation activities into players’ lives, is Darren Heitner, Esq., a sports attorney who is the Founder of SportsAgentBlog.com and a Forbes contributor specializing in the business of sports. According to Heitner: 
"Many companies understand the significance and importance of providing services to clientele that may not necessarily lead to a direct increase in revenue. Those companies realize that charitable measures are valuable for the end of benefiting society, but also may reap the rewards of being noticed for their efforts, which indirectly leads to an increase in profitability.
Sports agencies would be looking after their own self interests and providing a very valuable (albeit charitable) service to the individuals they represent, if they decide to spend more time, effort and energy in looking after their clients' long term interests. It should not only be about what occurs on the field of play and in conversations with general managers, but also how athletes can transition to careers in differing disciplines once it is time to hand up the jerseys. Some agencies manage this process better than others. In today's day-and-age, it must be an expected and demanded facet of representation.” 
As examples that reflect Heitner’s frank and insightful remarks about the role of sports agencies in helping players to change careers, the remainder of this article (part two) will feature two existing programs that were designed to assist players with that challenging change process. The first program featured here was developed and is run by a prominent agency, while the other was conceived, developed, and is coordinated by a non-agency consulting firm run by a former agency employee.
Check Out The PLAN
For the last three years, the Chicago- and Los Angeles-based agency called Priority Sports & Entertainment (PSE) has been hosting a learning/networking career-transition conference for its NFL player clients. Last year’s version of the one-day conference, known simply as The PLAN (Preparing for Life After football Now), was held on April 10 at Chicago’s Hotel SAX.
The conference’s general focus and design is refreshingly simple. NFL and NFLPA representatives, financial advisors, life coaches, counselors, and other business professionals who are well thought of in their respective fields were invited to conduct career development workshops and then to get paired up with PSE clients who attended the event.
PSE agent and PLAN event creator Deryk Gilmore (pictured below) explained his employer’s rationale for sponsoring the conference. “As an agency we have always structured the company to make our clients a Priority. When other companies are having Super Bowl parties we had that option but just felt the best way to serve our clients was to structure a program to help them prepare for the future. Because of the relationships with our clients, everyone in our office was on board to make sure we would not read about our clients going broke or having no options when their career was over.”
In keeping with the fact that PSE is a moneymaking player rep agency, built into the PLAN program’s design is a process for measuring its long-term impact on the company’s profitability. According to Gilmore, “The program is about 3 years in place so long term we will chart players who leave the league and we follow what they do when they finish. As players retire we contact them with questions on how can we help. 
“I think this (tracking process) makes us different,” he continued. “When a player comes to an end the value is him having a PLAN in place and knowing we (PSE) did our job.”
Testimonials from several of the players themselves backed up Gilmore’s PLAN self-assessment. Former linebacker J. Leman, who played for several teams including the Oakland Raiders, said “ I recommend going for anyone who played for years, and then you’re not sure what you want to do. It was great to learn about the full spectrum of options after football.” 
Meanwhile, former running back Noah Herron, who also played for several teams including the Green Bay Packers, added, “It was a great, great opportunity to set the stage for the second chapter of our lives. It was a great platform to springboard from.”
But former players weren’t the only PSE clients in attendance at the 2012 PLAN event. Current Detroit Lions defensive End Jason Jones also praised his PLAN experience, saying “This was very beneficial for players. I would get teammates to come in the future. It was a great networking opportunity, and just a really great opportunity to meet people and get their emails and phone numbers.”
As you can see, the fact that an agency like PSE is demonstrating a refreshing foresight and authentic concern for its clients’ well-being by investing in The PLAN program is a huge step toward ushering the sports industry into an enlightened era. What I like most about The PLAN program’s potential impact on the sports industry is that it’s sponsored by an agency, which organically isn’t widely expected to care about anything beyond money. 
And because agencies aren’t generally expected to display charitable motives, any step that such an organization takes in an altruistic direction can potentially send positive shock waves throughout the entire professional sporting landscape. Therefore, simply by institutionalizing the annual PLAN event, it’s clear to me that PSE is providing a major boost to all who strongly agree with Darren Heitner that helping athletes transition to post-playing careers “must be an expected and demanded facet of representation.”
It must be said, of course, that agency-sponsored programs like The PLAN aren’t yet plentiful enough to serve as anything more than prototypical design examples of how agencies and teams might address players’ career transitioning issues in the future. So at this embryonic point in the sports industry’s inevitable-yet-delayed journey toward a more balanced understanding and leveraging of its key role in our society, certain core questions still haven’t been answered on a wide enough scale.
Chief among those core questions is how to peak the interest of young players who’ve had no previous exposure to any kind of training in the fundamentals of business and personal decision-making. Currently, I believe that most sports industry professionals and fans are convinced that most new athletes aren’t mature or smart enough to allow themselves to focus on building their financial and social futures right now. So the question that often gets asked is, “How on earth do you plan to get (this career transitioning and social decision-making knowledge) across to the knuckleheads?”
Truthfully, that’s a fair question, especially in light of the fact that programs like The PLAN work best for individuals who’ve already committed themselves to learning how to transition to new careers. The PLAN is definitely a powerful and useful networking opportunity for its attendees, but it’s understandably designed to appeal specifically to PSE’s clients. Therefore, it’s not even reasonable to expect programs like it to address the issue of expanding career transitioning knowledge throughout the community of NFL players.
On another note, Jack Bechta’s advice in his National Football Post blog that teams should mandate career-change process training for all players would drastically reduce the significance of the players’ maturity question. So if the NFL and its individual teams would simply make financial investments and policy upgrades similar to those suggested by Bechta, pro football’s nightmarish player career transitioning problems could be transformed into a minor annoyance almost overnight. That’s why I also advocate such a change at the team and league levels.
But convincing teams and professional sports leagues to show such concern for their players’ well being isn’t the only way to narrow the knowledge and maturity gap for pro athletes. Marcus D. Sallis, Founder and CEO of The Sallis Consulting Group (SCG), has created another way – and a fully comprehensive one at that.
Introducing The McCombs Professional Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative
For the last 12 years, former Iowa State University scholar athlete (football) Marcus Sallis has been running the unique business consulting organization that bears his last name. And unique is definitely an apt descriptor of the business model that drives The Sallis Consulting Group, as the excerpt below from its Mission Statement explains: 
"The SCG is not a team of financial advisors and Investment Managers. The goal of our company is to consult directly with athletes on their business transactions, off-the-field business ventures, and long-term planning and positioning for a thriving career once the playing days are over. The Sallis Consulting Group will fully understand your business aspirations and put a strategic and long-term professional structure in place to ensure the client understands these critical decisions and receive the proper insight prior to making these life-altering financial decisions.” 
As you can see, SCG’s primary business focus is to earn its money by training its athlete clients in financial decision-making and strategic planning, along with providing transaction-by-transaction project review and advisement. The true uniqueness of the Sallis company’s business model rests in the fact that the better informed its clients are about how to make sound financial decisions, the more lucrative it gets for SCG.
In short, Sallis has pioneered the creation of a sports industry business model featuring a built-in financial and social balancing motive that contrasts dramatically against the existing dominant approach. Specifically, rather than confining itself to earning commissions from negotiating playing and endorsement contracts while keeping clients’ personal affairs at arms length, SCG is instead set up to thrive best from helping its clients become savvy investors and strategists on their own behalf. With the spreading of a model like this, the ugly post-NFL and post-NBA stats that have alarmed so many people will now have a chance to finally become a thing of the past.
When asked how important he believes career, financial, and life education activities are to the players” long-term well-being, Sallis said:
"These aspects of life are absolutely critical to an athlete's overall well-being. Having played the game of football up until college and personally knowing a ton of NFL athletes, their identity and lifestyle are completely consumed in their on-the-field identity. From a financial standpoint, players need to enjoy their hard work but within productive and efficient reason.
By personally understanding your finances, or hiring someone credible to help with this process players can maintain this above average lifestyle moving into retirement and beyond. Life education is just what it is. I believe everyone has to proactively educate and better themselves. Athletes more so due to their overwhelming access to capital, access to the media, and frankly people's access to them.
From a career standpoint, athletes that make it to the professional level have been dominating their respective sports since they were very young and receiving preferential treatment in parallel. Imagine being treated like royalty your entire life and then when the game is done with you, now in your next career you are treated like a novice and success depends on humility and the passion to start learning something new from the ground up. The quicker you can get that career transition process started the easier the transition will be. Though I do believe the lifestyle of and gratification that comes with being a professional athlete is almost impossible to replicate, so the process will always be challenging.”  
To accomplish its comprehensive mission, SCG functions like a service broker, linking its clients directly with the kinds of experts that each individual client needs most to generate solutions to specific business puzzles. So as a natural extension of its regular operating process design, the company has spearheaded a comprehensive collaborative educational venture called The McCombs Professional Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative.
According to Sallis, the McCombs program, so-named because it’s the product of a partnership between SCG and the Red McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, is intended “to serve as an educational and professional roadmap for professional athletes to make well informed and educated quantitative and qualitative business investment decisions.”
Targeted at all active and retired pro athletes who are looking to invest in a new or existing business to be run either by the athlete or someone else, the McCombs program guides each participant through the following process:
  • Athlete application process (must have a legitimate business idea/concept)
  • Pool of McCombs business/law school talent assessed and assigned to an athlete’s deal
  • Athlete/adviser will interface with deal team weekly (tele/video conference)
  • Athletes will attend a 4-day professor-driven seminar (in their prospective offseason and based on the regional off-season location) and also meet with deal team and work together on the business plan
  • Deal team will continue to work on the athlete business plan for the remainder of the semester
  • Athletes will receive a well-written formal business plan/research/recommendation
  • Athletes will receive all relevant information to receive reimbursement from their respective league or Association for program fees (if applicable)
In addition to being comprehensive and part of an ongoing business relationship between SCG and the program participants, the McCombs program also provides those participants with an intense immersion experience at the University of Texas at Austin. In this way, the program acts as a training camp for the athlete’s mind, just as his team’s training camps prepare his body for a playing season.
Final Thoughts
The best news overall is that while PSE’s PLAN and SCG’s McCombs initiative are two of the most notable sports industry efforts to help pro athletes avoid career change woes, the number of transition-related ideas and activities is starting to grow. This is a sure sign that the spirit of the self-actualized athlete is blowing across the entire sports landscape.
In the final article of this three-part series, I’ll share with you some player identity management advice from key members of the Access Athletes team of sports psychology and brand management experts. So by the time you finish reading and dialoguing about the information contained in these three articles, you’ll be in great shape to be part of the solution in your own business and social circles.