BOWLING GREEN — In the recent years of his professional football career, Brendon Ayanbadejo has taken a public stance in support of same-sex marriage — which he reiterated in the fall after a Maryland state delegate took exception to his beliefs.
As a linebacker in the NFL, Canadian Football League, and NFL Europe, Ayanbadejo understood the role the media played in emphasizing the issue and his position as a professional athlete taking a role in a social cause.
In that same vein, Ayanbadejo also realized the power he had in embracing a platform that the media could provide — not just traditional forms of media, but also its technological forms.
“Being able to deliver my message when I wanted to do it and how I wanted to do it, I did that via social media,” said Ayanbadejo, who helped the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl in February. “It aligned me with other brands that are like my brand.
“That fascinated me. How could I bring that message more mainstream?”
Ayanbadejo, however, didn’t join the NFL Sports Journalism and Communications boot camp simply looking for another outlet. Released by the Ravens in April, Ayanbadejo also prepares for life after football.
He’s one of 23 current and former NFL players participating in the NFL’s player engagement department career transition program that began Monday night at the Sebo Athletic Center at Bowling Green State University.
The four-day career seminar includes multimedia training, game coverage, training in column writing, and breakout sessions on topics such as ethics in sports journalism and crisis management.
“You’re nervous, at first, because you think, writing isn’t my strong point,” said Charlie Batch, a former Eastern Michigan quarterback who has spent 16 seasons in the NFL with Detroit and Pittsburgh. “I can talk. I can do that all day! But putting it on paper, you’re really able to tell a story by putting it on paper.”
Monday night, Dick Maxwell gave the contingent an overview of what they would prepare for during the course of the next three days. Instead of morning workouts, playbooks, and training tables, the participants will work in classroom sessions, take part in video conferences, and work in the field.
Before sending off the charges, Maxwell added a dose of humor.
“There’s no curfew tonight,” said Maxwell, a Fostoria and Bowling Green graduate who worked with the NFL for 36 years in public relations and broadcasting. “And Buffalo Wild Wings is open until midnight with a $3.50 special on beer.”
But, Maxwell added, Monday night came with a caveat — a homework assignment. Specifically, each of the participants had to review and choose a topic for a column-writing assignment.
“I don’t think you can prepare for this,” said Eric Crouch, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2001 as a quarterback at Nebraska. “You have to know that it’s going to be a grind for the next three days, and you want to get as much as you possibly can from the course, you want to have good conversations with the people who have been there and done that, and who are currently involved in broadcasting and journalism.”
Crouch said that as a quarterback at Nebraska, he felt an obligation to work with the media and that, at times, his dealings with the media were mixed. As a quarterback, he took it upon himself to be open to the media — because, in a sense, it was an obligation as the focal point of a team.
“But I’ve always opened myself up to talk to the media and to be easily accessible,” Crouch said. “That might be one of the reasons I’m able to step into this profession, because I’ve made myself accessible.”
Batch explained that working with the media through the course of his college football career and in the NFL has been both a learning process and a process of growth.
“The more you go through it, the more you respect what [the media] do,” Batch said. “That’s something that you learn to respect along the way. I think I have a good relationship with the media because I’ve been around the league, and I got to know who people were individually.”
Ayanbadejo is a free agent, and while cognizant of the fact that there are avenues after football to pursue — he is completing his master’s in business administration at George Washington University in Washington — he still has one more pursuit.
“If anyone needs a linebacker, have them call my agent,” Ayanbadejo said, laughing.
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