AC In The AM: Dolphins Providing Players Rare Opportunity

Posted Jul 13, 2016

A three-day "externship" in New York offers a valuable look into life after football, further indication of the far-reaching commitment of Owner Steve Ross.

(Andy Cohen In the Morning – AC in the AM – will begin appearing Monday through Friday throughout the season once training camp begins on July 29. You can also follow AC in the AM by Twitter at @acohenfins).

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Five Dolphins players are getting a different type of education this week in New York, an education that has little to do with what they accomplish on the field and more to do with shaping themselves as individuals and preparing for the challenging world that awaits them in their post-football lives.

While most of their teammates are enjoying the final days of their summer vacation before training camp begins in a few weeks, Reshad Jones, Cameron Wake, Earl Mitchell, James Michael Johnson and Sam Young are in the midst of a three-day externship in New York, learning about big business, about the corporate world and about some of the ventures out of football that consumes the time of owner Steve Ross.

Officially it is called The Miami Dolphins Stephen Ross Externship Experience. And from everything I can tell, it is the first attempt by an NFL team to do something quite like this. The idea was born last January when Ndamukong Suh, a pretty good businessman himself, visited New York to tour Hudson Yards, a massive undertaking spearheaded by Ross that, once complete, will be the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States.

During his tour with Suh, the thought came to Ross that other Dolphins players should be given an opportunity to experience this as well. With the help of both Dolphins Director of Player Engagement Kaleb Thornhill and Player Engagement staff member Yves Batoba the idea sprouted into a three-day seminar that covered far more than just a tour of Hudson Yards.

A success? Thornhill received a text Tuesday from James Michael Johnson, a fifth-year linebacker, calling it “the best thing I’ve done all year.”

The Dolphins, and Ross in particular, deserve plenty of credit for putting together something like this, concrete proof of how this franchise goes above and beyond when it comes to aiding in the development of these players, not only as athletes but as well-rounded contributors to the post-football society.

Said Thornhill: “This is all about building relationships and gaining access to industries that these players have never experienced before – and, of course, having an owner that believes so strongly in the importance of preparing players for life after football.”

Added Batoba: “You want these players to have options. This type of program helps them understand those options.”

The Dolphins offered this program to all the players who have shown interest in such areas as real estate, technology, business operations, business development and investing. Some players couldn’t attend because of previous commitments and the list was narrowed down to these five who, to their credit, came at their own expense.

“Meeting and learning from the men who are shaping the NYC Skyline and being able to develop relationships with people like Mr. Ross, who wants to see you succeed, is an invaluable opportunity,” said Sam Young, an offensive lineman.

Added defensive tackle Earl Mitchell: “My experience was everything I expected and more. I hope to build on these relationships moving forward.”

You look at the breakdown of what these players are experiencing and it’s hard not to be impressed.

In an effort to create the most value over these three days, the Dolphins asked the NFL to be involved and on Monday, there was Jones, Wake, Mitchell, Johnson and Young spending much of their day at NFL headquarters, hearing presentations about digital media, about sponsorships, partnerships and business development and about so many other variables that go into running such a complex entity as the NFL.

They heard from such former players as Chad Pennington, who certainly knows a thing or two about building a successful post-football resume, and Leonard Wheeler, who is involved in leadership development at several Fortune 500 companies.

On Tuesday, they spent time at Ross’ Related Companies, hearing from all sorts of impressive people such as Harvey Spevak, the CEO of Equinox, a luxury fitness company of which Ross is an investor. Then there was the tour of Hudson Yards, which had to be special.

The externship concluded Wednesday. Following breakfast with Ross, there were more presentations and a special introduction to RSE Ventures, a sports/technology/investment/entertainment company. There was also a boat ride on the Hudson River hosted by Dolphins Vice Chairman and co-founder of RSE Matt Higgins, his staff and executives from Relevent Sports, Ascendent Sports Group, RESY and RISE.

Who knows what lasting impressions each of these five players will take with them from their time in New York, but it’s got to be beneficial in so many different ways as they prepare for life after football.

As for the Dolphins, the hope is to offer this program twice a year moving forward, once in February and once in the spring following OTAs.

I can tell you this: If I were a player, I’d be first in line.

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