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NEW YORK — Even before Darren Howard entered the NFL, the defensive end had dreams of being in the music business. He was a DJ in high school and by the time he was in college, he'd created a "rag-tag" recording studio in the basement of his residence.
"It's always been something I loved," Howard said. "I knew one day that I would transform to that."
So after Howard retired in 2009, the former New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles player jumped into making records. He started his own label, Empyre, and signed a pop and R&B singer that he's confident about.
But Howard admits he hasn't yet had what he'd call success, calling the music industry "fickle."
"The music business is funny. Some artists go 10, 15 years of making records before they ever recoup and make any money," Howard said. "The label can be the same, because they're depending on the artist. Hopefully it won't take that long."
This week, the National Football League offered an assist to current and former players like Howard who are trying to find their footing in a business that can be just as unforgiving as football. Its player engagement division paired with New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, part of the Tisch School of the Arts, for the "Business of Music Boot Camp." The camp had key music figures — from mogul Davis to record company executives and managers — offering their insights in intimate sessions with the players. Each player was then paired with a mentor, who will continue to coach him in the months to come.
"The music game, it's not just finding the talent. It's what you do with that talent that ultimately determines your level of success," said Jeffrey Rabhan, the institute's department chair and a mentor in the program.
Given that sports can be considered entertainment itself, it's not surprising that some athletes migrate into the field. Magic Johnson may be among the biggest success stories, with his theaters and other ventures. Shaquille O'Neal was a recording artist and actually had a platinum album. Chris Webber, Metta World Peace and others have also tried their hand in the music business, and Roy Jones, Jr., had a record label Body Head (whose financial troubles, according to a recent Sports Illustrated article, may be part of the reason the forty-something boxer is still in the ring).
While Rabhan noted there have been a smattering of athletes who have made it in the music industry, "unfortunately, the stories of those who have not had successes are a longer list, so we're trying to change that."
About 70 players applied to be a part of the four-day program, and 20 were accepted. Among those who took part in the camp were former Oakland Raider Justin Fargis, New York Giants player Marvin Austin, St. Louis Rams player Brandon Lloyd, and Torry Holt, who played for the Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Troy Vincent, the NFL's vice president for player engagement, said the league created the program after player surveys showed a strong interest in the entertainment field, particularly music. The NFL already does a broadcasting boot camp to ready players for media careers, and a Hollywood boot camp is planned for April at Universal Studios, and will include such talent as Oscar-nominated director John Singleton.