By John Ingoldsby, Player Engagement Insider
The Oakland Raiders Player Engagement Department has to like the friends they are making these days. Take, for instance, Facebook Fridays, where 16 Raiders players recently visited the high tech titan’s headquarters to learn their status compared with some of the most innovative individuals in the world.
“Our players are young, and this visit was an opportunity to see what these great young minds are doing and if they can compete with these people when their career ends,” said the outing’s leader Lamonte Winston, who is the club’s Director of Player Engagement (DPE). “It was wonderful for them to see a company that has transformed the world we live in.”
And that’s just one of many pioneering programs the Raiders’ DPE has implemented in the shadow of Silicon Valley, getting a thumbs up from all who have donned the famous black & silver uniforms, be they current, former or rookie players.
“We start with what’s most important – the man outside the jersey – as we build a level of trust and communication so that they know how to access our resources that will meet their individual needs,” explained Winston, who brings a quarter-century of experience advising athletes to this position, which he took on in 2012.
One of the club’s foundational programs is the Pro Series, an eight-module curriculum where experts in various fields come in to speak with the players.
“We have some top people coming in, such as Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz speaking about business, and other topics include finance and commercial real estate,” Winston said. “Our players will also have personal conversations with presenters that could lead to career shadowing opportunities as well, so this program is not putting our players on a frontage road but rather on the freeway to potential new careers.”
For some, that may start with completing their college degrees, and Winston said the club partners with a continuing education consultant who has contacts with virtually every university out there, and who conducts an audit of each player’s college status and transcript, and then a determination is made whether to proceed online or on-campus.
“We track and we go,” Winston said, noting that they take the approach that life after football starts the day a player enters the League. “We try to have our guys thinking early on to begin putting the right eggs in the right basket for their next careers.”
That process can include having players involved in one or two programs in the offseason, such as a symposium where companies come in and train players about the business world that can end up with them attending networking events and even job interviews.
And it all begins in week one for newcomers with the Rookie Transition Program, which recently was transitioned to each club to include undrafted free agents after years of being a League event for drafted players.
“During their first minicamp, we have a full day of orientation and later a full week to set the foundation for players to go home for the summer and come back ready to play,” said Winston, who also coached football at the college level. “Then, during the season, we stage our Rookie Success Program, and these eight modules teach the young men about the basics of finance and credit, as well as relationships with family and friends.”
And at the other end of the spectrum, former Raiders both participate in and have access to a variety of club activities, including a bridge bowling event on the second day of the Rookie Transition Program where the incoming players interact with the Legends.
Additionally, Winston said, “Morris Bradshaw (former Raiders wide receiver) oversees our Legends program with former players, working in concert with the NFL platform to access all League programs, while also keeping a club database where generational Raiders can connect.”
Former players can also reunite at an annual golf tournament hosted by former Raiders wide receiver, Hall-of-Famer Fred Biletnikoff’s Foundation, and also approximately 70 former players and wives are brought up to Napa for training camp each year.
The club is also undertaking a women’s initiative with the formation of the Raiders Women’s Association to, as Winston stated, “Build out a platform for the ladies of the NFL, which is extremely important for both the men and their wives.”
Just one of countless important programs that make up the PE department’s mission.
“I have dedicated my last few decades to this career,” Winston said. “Where we take a holistic approach to help players transition into and out of our organization, while maximizing their time playing in the league.”