Matt Light: NFL deserves credit for helping players - Sports Illustrated

NFL deserves credit for helping players plus 10 Things I Think

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It's quite an honor to fill in for the legendary Peter King. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity and want to use it to shine a positive light on some of the NFL's initiatives, since I don't think the league and the players get enough credit for what they do off the field. Too often we hear about the negative things -- Plaxico Burress' nightclub shooting, Michael Vick's conviction for running a dog-fighting ring and the behavior of Pacman Jones. What people fail to see is those players are not the majority.

There are many so-called experts who say the NFL isn't standing behind its players, but nothing could be further from the truth. The league is doing a lot more listening these days. Under commissioner Roger Goodell's leadership, the NFL is trying to offer guys the tools to make better decisions off the field, so they can handle the pressure that often comes with a career in pro sports and adapt to life when their playing days are over.

The NFL and the NFLPA are providing opportunities for players to gain the knowledge and the training that are the foundation of a post-football career. The Rookie Symposium, which has been an annual program for first-year players since the early 1990s, teaches players how to handle and protect their finances, stay out of trouble and be aware there are always consequences to their actions. I'm confident this program has saved more than a few careers. Mandatory for all drafted players, it's the most proactive program run by any of the professional sports leagues.

Another example is the Business Management and Entrepreneurial Seminar run by top-notch institutions such as Harvard's Business School, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I've had the chance to attend three of these classes, and the benefits have been invaluable. I've learned, in part, how to apply different business principles, run a company efficiently, and most important, how to leverage the unique opportunities I've been afforded as a professional player to put myself in the best possible position for my future after football. None of us want to think of that day, but the NFL is giving us the chance to shadow some really smart and accomplished people who we can call upon with questions or concerns about starting our own ventures.

Last month's NFL Player Development Broadcast Boot Camp was another prime example of a one-of-a-kind opportunity provided by the NFL to players who think they might want to pursue a career as a sports announcer or analyst. These are exceptional programs for guys who are interested in continuing their education to learn from the best about what they've always wanted to do.

These are all invaluable experiences that many players are taking advantage of on a regular basis. If the NFL got even a fraction of the attention for these initiatives as it gets for the bad news, the sport would be elevated to an even higher level -- one it rightly deserves.

1. I think I'm all for tougher sanctions on players who misbehave and tarnish the reputations of the NFL, their team, teammates and the game as a whole. Goodell should hold those who make poor decisions accountable for their actions.

2. I think NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has a lot on his plate these days. Too much, in fact. In addition to the looming task of helping players and teams negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for the 2010 season, he's trying to increase health care benefits, provide additional opportunities to current and former players and deal with the retired players' issue.

3. I think, on the subject of benefits for retired players, which fellow trenchman Matt Birkeloquently wrote about Monday, not enough credit is given to the current players who make it a practice to give back to these veterans. In 2006 and 2007, active players invested nearly $250 million in retirement benefits for these former players. Granted, the industry wasn't what it is today, and they didn't have as much of a collective voice in the early days of the league, but some made better choices about their post-football lives than others. It should be said that the NFLPA is not ignoring these players. We're working hard to lend needed support to these guys, many of whom are the sports icons

4. I think the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp I attended in early June gave me a much better understanding of how the sports-television business works, especially the prep work that goes into each pre-game show and football broadcast. It's not unlike getting a game plan ready, as there were a lot of little details -- makeup, wardrobe, diction and delivery -- that I hadn't given much thought to. Many thanks to James Brown, Curt Menefee and Ron Jaworski for taking the time to teach us the business.

5. I think, as always, I'm excited for the start of the 2009 season. With all the Patriots' moves in the offseason, we'll definitely have a new look and way of doing things -- but I'm confident we have what it takes to be a good football team. Fortunately, from what I've heard, we will have plenty of full-speed reps in training camp to get ready!

6. I think that training camp should be illegal.

7. I think the world thinks seeing husky offensive lineman wearing skin-tight white Spandex and dancing with lizards is funny. I'm not saying it's a healthy thing, but a good laugh every now and then is something I live by. Working with SoBe alongside Justin Tuck and Ray Lewis was a memorable moment. The best part is all the ribbing I get from teammates and friends. I just ask that you please don't try those moves at home -- leave it to the professionals.

8. I think Steve McNair was indeed a great competitor. As we try to make sense of this incredible tragedy, my heart goes out to Steve's four children and the pain they must be feeling. Football has lost a great quarterback, but the real loss is being experienced by his family. My heart goes out to them.

9. I think these are my charity-related thoughts of the week:

a. I'm really excited about this week's opening of the Light Foundation's new Outdoor Leadership Camp -- Vohokase Camp at Chenoweth Trails in Greenville, Ohio. We'll be taking 12 kids from across the country and teaching them life lessons. Our goal is to instill the values of responsibility, accountability and hard work by providing them with unique outdoor learning experiences that helps them reach their highest potential. We've planned everything from career educational tours and community service projects, to ropes courses and trail-based activities for them to enjoy. I started this non-profit eight years ago because I truly believe these opportunities are sorely lacking in many young people's lives.

b. Our Foundation's signature fundraiser, the "Matt Light Celebrity Shoot-Out," will be at its best this year. The day-long clay shooting tournament hosts 64 teams that include anyone who's interested in the sport: former and current football players, and celebrities such as Bode Miller and Lenny Clarke, who are quite entertaining. It's pretty unique and has really taken off since we began doing it five years ago. It's fun to see guys who are stars on the football field really struggle with hitting a clay target. You wouldn't believe it. I welcome any and all challengers. It takes place in Rhode Island in September, and benefits the kids and the Foundation, so it's all for a good cause.

(Click here for more information on The Light Foundation.)

10. I think Peter King has a very tough job. After several drafts and the threat of carpal-tunnel syndrome, I have a newfound respect for journalists everywhere. It's been fun, and I appreciate the opportunity to be a Monday Morning Quarterback once in my career.