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In his final season with the Minnesota Vikings, Sage Rosenfels saw the interaction among the team’s owners, the local government and the citizens of Minneapolis — they all raised vital questions over how a new football stadium would be financed.
“You’ve got the owners, you’ve got the voters, you’ve got members of both sides, you’ve got the government who is fighting over it, for every last dollar and how that’s going to go into the stadium,” Rosenfels said. “So it was always an issue on my mind.”
It motivated Rosenfels to ask some questions of his own about the process. Yet unlike the average citizen or a journalist, he didn’t have a formal sounding board to ask those questions. Rosenfels got that chance Tuesday at Fifth Third Field, asking an executive of a sports team about the issue of stadium financing.
Rosenfels is one of 22 current and former NFL players who are participating in the NFL Sports Journalism Boot Camp at Bowling Green State University, a career transition program created by Dick Maxwell, the former NFL senior director of broadcasting and a Fostoria High School and Bowling Green State University graduate.
The Sports Journalism Boot Camp is one of 10 career transition programs the NFL offers to current and former players, an initiative that includes training programs in coaching, franchising, hospitality and culinary management, and business management and entrepreneurship.
“It’s important for players to take advantage of the opportunities that the league provides for us,” said Steve Sanders, a 2005 Bowling Green State University graduate who played for the Cleveland Browns.
“You hear a lot about some of the things that are negative in the media, but these are things that don’t get enough publicity. For me, I wanted to take advantage of this to see if this is a possibility for me to pursue a career in sports journalism and communications, or even broadcasting.”
The four-day program concludes today and includes multimedia training, game coverage, training in column writing, and breakout sessions on topics such as ethics in sports journalism and crisis management.
And, yes, the 22 participants are given homework assignments, including one in which each participant was assigned to write a column about their first full day in the program. The workshops also gave the NFL players a chance to take a different approach. Instead of being asked questions, they got to ask questions.
“You’re taught for years to say as little as possible when answering questions when you’re playing,” Rosenfels said. “Now we’re trying to say things to the people we’re interviewing to get as much as possible.”
During a mock news conference with Walleye and Mud Hens president and general manager Joe Napoli, one NFL player asked Napoli about the amount of community involvement by both organizations. Napoli said those included everything from hospital visits to reading at local schools, but the Walleye’s in-season schedule allowed for more community engagement.
Another player asked about promotions that the two teams hosted and how they evolved. Fireworks nights, Napoli said, blossomed into other promotional events such as a night at Fifth Third Field that celebrates Star Wars and the nights that the Mud Hens and Walleye wear novelty jerseys, which are later auctioned off for charity.
Then Rosenfels asked Napoli about the financing of Fifth Third Field, which Napoli said the facility is expected to be paid off within the next two years.
“What happens with the money when the ballpark is paid off?” Rosenfels asked.
Those funds, Napoli said, will go toward maintenance of Fifth Third Field, which may include resurfacing the field, replacing seats, and upgrading the video board.
“When you’re writing for the readers, the readers are part of that community,” Rosenfels said. “They pay taxes, and they have the questions, and one of those is about where the money goes. Whenever there’s a new stadium built, in any sport, it’s always a hot-button issue.”
Following the mock news conference, Barry Wilner, a sports writer for the Associated Press, critiqued the questions and added several that could have been asked during that time. He also praised several questions, including one by Rosenfels.
“It was very journalistic,” Wilner said. “It was something I would have asked.”
Sanders believes that attribute comes from having a different perspective.
“Our insight, in the way we think and the questions we ask, it may be just a little bit outside of the box because we’re so used to being on the other side,” Sanders said. “And it’s fun not to be under the microscope.”