GREENWICH VILLAGE, MANHATTAN: Under the helmet of each man who ever competes in the NFL is a future ex-player. While the heart of a lion may beat inside, another life awaits them all – some sooner, some later.
As these gladiator-like athletes learned their game, the sound of music was a constant companion. At the high school and college level, marching bands set the soundtrack, with increasingly sophisticated musical cues becoming a big part of the fan experience. By the time these 22-year old warriors – quarterbacks, offensive tackles, linebackers, safeties, and kickers – make it to the hallowed stadiums of the National Football League, music has become an essential source of inspiration.
So while the announcement of the first-ever NFL Business of Music Bootcamp, hosted downtown this past week by NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music (part of the Tisch School of the Arts), may have raised some eyebrows, the bedfellows were not so odd as at first glance. An extremely intensive four-day breakdown of the music industry in 2012, the camp saw a who’s-who of business executives instructing 20 current and former NFL players on how to survive and thrive in the recorded sound sector.
There was talent to go around on both side of the ball. Big names like cornerback Al Harris, wide receiver Torry Holt, and safety Antoine Bethea lined up to face the likes of Downtown Records’ Josh Deutsch, Sony ATV Music Publishing’s Danny Strick, Bob Dylan manager Jeff Rosen, Bank Robber Music’s Lyle Hysen, Spike Lee, and Clive Davis himself.
Player Engagement: Keeping Athletes Connected
There are several reasons why this decidedly innovative convergence of music and athletics just took place in New York City.
Every year, the 32 teams of the NFL launch their seasons with 53 players on their roster – a 1,696-person pool right there. Mix in the hundreds of players that come and go from these lineups in the course of the year due to injury and sub-par performance, and you have an ever-growing mass of athletes that will eventually be leaving the league.
The NFL assumes some level of responsibility with assisting players – both current and retired – on their next careers via what they call player engagement. “The mission of NFL Player Engagement is to empower players to reach their highest potential both on and off-the-field through guidance, support, and resources provided before, during, and after their NFL experiences,” says Troy Vincent, NFL Vice President of Player Engagement. “We continue to look for ways to educate players and develop their skills for post-NFL experience. The NFL Business of Music Boot Camp builds upon the successes of our Business Management & Entrepreneurial program, and Broadcast Boot Camp in catering to players’ interests in new disciplines.”
The need to look ahead to their job after football is a concept most players get their heads around early on. Jon Dekker, a three-year tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers and part of their Super Bowl XLIII-winning squad, was one of the 20 players accepted into the program – out of 100+ applicants. Dekker, who officially left the league after the 2008 season, took a one-week break from his MBA studies in the applied securities analysis program at University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin School of Business, to take part in the Music Boot Camp.
“It’s such a short shelf life in the NFL,” he points out. “I think the average career comes out to about 3 or 3 ½ years, and that’s one reason I applied to business school right after that career. It’s awesome and you want to extend it as far as possible, but the reality is that before you know it, it’s over.”
Justin Fargas was drafted in the third round by the Oakland Raiders in 2003, and spent his entire seven-season playing career with the team. While still technically a free agent (as opposed to being officially retired), Fargas’ attendance at the Boot Camp signified an acceptance that his playing days are over.
“I’m content with moving on,” says Fargas. “Every player — that plays or is no longer playing – still has a love and a passion for the game. I feel mentally and physically that I can still play the game, but I’m ready to move on.”
Fargas first learned of the Boot Camp via an email update from the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA). A rapper and lyricist with a longtime dream of starting his own record label, Fargas’ interest was immediately piqued. “When I saw the music industry was a program being offered, it caught my eye,” he recalls. “Then when I saw what it would entail, it seemed perfect for me.
“As an athlete with an interest in the business, you can spend a lot of money and a lot of time, and waste a lot of money and a lot of time. Music can become a very expensive hobby. My goal was to turn my passion — and what I do in my free time — into a business.”
The Shoe Fits: Athletes and Music Go Way Back
There are many obvious parallels between the NFL and music industry: They both stand as potentially huge-profit-making entertainment sectors where artists, athletes, labels and teams become formidable franchises. But the interweaving of sound and sport go deeper than just an obvious continuing-education concept.
Music is a massive inspiration to athletes as they prepare to do battle. “Before the games, the guys were on their headphones,” says Dekker, who plays three instruments and routinely charged up with Pearl Jam’s 10 and Vitalogy. “Music is a way for them to focus, or get their energy flowing before the game. The same way music moves a non-athlete before the game, it does for the athlete. Motivation is the key.
“A lot of NFL guys, like who you saw at the Boot Camp, have outside interests, and music’s a big thing. A lot of guys who come up have played guitar or piano. That’s a hobby of theirs, and they appreciate the value of music. In the pro stadiums, the big thing I remember from Pittsburgh was the Styx song ‘Renegade’ – they’d play it before the fourth quarter set video of defensive highlights, and every time the crowd would get up. Here in Wisconsin they traditionally play ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain, that’s a Madison tradition.”
The power of music and sport — “Renegade” has a visceral impact on the Steelers crowd:
The league’s players are well attuned to music’s role in their competitive environment. So it starts to make sense why NFL linemen would be qualified to spot talent, run a label, oversee a recording session, or music supervise a movie – all fundamentals which were explored in the course of the Boot Camp’s curriculum.
Dekker says that when it comes to the work ethic required for today’s music business – an increasingly competitive arena where supply is growing exponentially, margins are falling, distribution is open to everybody, and new technologies are invented and converged daily – professional athletes have an edge.
“I think an athlete definitely has the understanding of how much has to go into it,” he observes, “and obviously all those players at NYU this week didn’t get into the NFL without putting in a lot of time and a lot of work. I think they realize how much of that has to be replicated if they’re going to accomplish that in music.