By Vince Agnew, Former Player
The longest tenured NFL player enrichment program, the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp kicked off on Monday, May 16th in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, at the NFL Films headquarters. Of the sixty current and former NFL player applicants, just twenty-five were privileged enough to be selected to close out the first decade of the program. Six of the chosen participants have previously attended the boot camp and are returning for a second time to participate in an advanced version of the four-day event, which boasts more one-on-one time, critiquing, and mentoring with top executives in the field.
Halfway through the course, which is facilitated by NFL Player Engagement, the focus has been on the execution both in the television studio and on radio. With invaluable connections and opportunities on the line, the mentors increased the demands with each breakout session. Players received mountains of information attempting to do something few are able to accomplish—transition from professional athletes into becoming a mainstay on televisions and radios around the country, with the understanding that it cannot be done alone.
The formula of the boot camp draws parallels to life as an NFL athlete—hours of intense classroom work, immediately followed by applying that new knowledge into physical action, driving the competitive desire within to achieve perfection for your team in limited number of repetitions. With notebooks and tip sheets filled by enough information to make heads spin, the players were paired into teams of two and were charged with formulating an on-air program that they would need to execute in a mock live broadcasting segment on the set of NFL Films. The on-air segments featured long-time hosts Curt Menefee of Fox Sports, Dan Hellie of NFL Network and James Brown of CBS Sports who has been vital to the heartbeat of the boot camp since its inaugural year.
During one of the on-air recordings, with anxiety dying down from the newness of the experience—memorizing names, statistics, talking points and postures—the players were thrown a curve ball. “Guys we have breaking news, the Buffalo Bills have just announced the firing of Rex Ryan and hiring of Tom Coughlin,” James Brown interrupted, “Thoughts?” Ten-year NFL offensive lineman, Willie Colon, quickly responded with a grin, “Rex seems to have a good relationship with Clemson, hopefully something there can work out for him.” The crew immediately burst into laughter. Good thing this one wasn’t being broadcast nationally.
If breaking news while on-air is not enough added pressure, the room is also uncomfortably warm from the lights and cameras on set that have been burning all morning—as well as from the number of bodies packed in the studio containing top talent coaches, directors, evaluators and decision-makers in the broadcasting world. “I like what you’re saying and points that you’re making, but I need more oomph. I need to believe that you believe it,” said Howard Deneroff, the long-time executive producer for Westwood One Radio, in addressing another team of broadcast hopefuls prior to their third retake of the segment, just as a coach would demand his players’ best.
Staying true to the formula of football, after each performance, the tape is reviewed and strongly critiqued in a small group session by Brown and Seth Markman, a twenty-two year veteran producer at ESPN.
In just the first half of the boot camp the players received coaching on other topics as well that include sideline reporting, social media options, and a recording session with SiriusXM radio. They studied game film with NFL Films Producer Greg Cosell, as well as a small group session with vocal awareness coach Arthur Joseph, who has worked on several Hall of Fame players’ acceptance speeches.
Through the first two days, players have been exposed to many facets of the broadcast business and are eager to refine their skills and impress coaches. James Brown stated that, “What is learned here will serve you well in any number of arenas; good communication skills are critical across the spectrum.” The players will be presented with new challenges and made to be uncomfortable for the remainder of the camp; however, being uncomfortable is a key component of personal growth.
Vince Agnew is a former NFL and CFL cornerback who previously participated in the NFL’s Sports Journalism and Radio Boot Camp