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NFL Players Work Towards Their Degrees

By Tom Kowalski
NFL Continuing Education Consultant

Completing one’s college degree is certainly a major accomplishment. Still, only approximately 27% of Americans complete their undergraduate degree, and in this poor economy while almost 11% of high school graduates find themselves unemployed, less than 5% of college graduates are in the same predicament.

Hopefully the message to prepare for life after football is not lost on our current players. Each year, the NFL celebrates players who earn their college degrees while playing, a difficult but often doable feat. It took Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis six years into his pro career before finally receiving his degree from the University of Georgia. Davis told one publication that since he has started a youth organization emphasizing, among other things, education it might be wise to take care of his own business. “I am always harping on you need to get an education, that’s the most important thing,” but here I am being a hypocrite because I speak to so many kids and I didn’t even have a college degree, Davis said. “Now I can go in front of those kids with confidence saying that I am a college graduate.”

Some players find themselves so close to graduation that they can taste it. Indianapolis Colts defensive back Brandon King is enrolled in his last two courses in order to earn his degree from Purdue University. While Brandon should have his degree requirements completed prior to camp, he can just go up the road a bit to West Lafayette to thank the professors and advisors who helped him complete his journey.

Also expected to finish his degree this summer is wide receiver Jeremy Horne. Horne has worked closely with his athletic academic advisor Lance Overby to find options for the two remaining courses that he needs from the University of Massachusetts.

King and Horne are part of a growing number of NFL players who have returned to complete their degrees early in their professional careers. NCAA academic requirements have helped NFL players who don’t earn their college degrees while playing be closer than ever to completing undergraduate careers. Combined with the NFL’s tuition reimbursement benefit, players understand that it might be a tad easier to return soon after they enter the League rather than put it off for a few years.

Antoine Bethea earned his Administration of Justice degree from Howard University. How strongly does Bethea believe in education? His Safe Coverage Foundation’s mission is committed to providing access and resources for students to achieve their dreams of a higher education.

“Antoine’s return to campus and graduation provided both he and the university the opportunity to reconnect and build even a stronger relationship” said Molly Tye, then his academic advisor at Howard and currently the Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Advising at Bethune-Cookman University. “Since then he has supported the university in a number of ways, appeared at numerous events, and held summer camps on campus. Our communication with the NFL ensured that we were all on the same page making the best decisions for his success and graduation. Ultimately, Antoine made the commitment that his degree from Howard was important and made sacrifices to make it happen.”

Returning to school and being a professional football player are certainly both difficult tasks which require the kind of sacrifices many players are willing to make. While the game doesn’t last forever, a college degree will.  

Congratulations to all current and former players who have received their college degrees during the past year and best of luck to all those still pursuing their degrees.

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