Graduation time is here, and once again, NFL players are earning their diplomas.
Many of the players who earned their college degrees this spring did so through the Continuing Education Program of the NFL Player Development Department, which is headed by NFL Vice President of Player and Employee Development and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes
One of the 2003 NFL graduates is Green Bay Packers running back Ahman Green, who received his diploma from the University of Nebraska on May 12. Green, a two-time NFL All-Star who eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third consecutive season in 2002, fulfilled a promise he made to his parents and himself when he earned his degree in geography.
"A lot of guys make it to the NFL and say, 'OK, I'm successful. I don't have to get my degree,'" says Green. "Now I can say I'm successful at my sport but I've also got a degree to fall back on."
Green, an Omaha native, left Nebraska in 1997 after rushing for 1,877 yards and 22 touchdowns to help the Cornhuskers to a share of the national championship.
"Ahman has been relentless with his follow-through on going back to get his degree," says Edgar Bennett, the Packers' director of player development. "Once everything was in place through the NFL Continuing Education Program, he stayed on top of it. The importance of getting his degree weighs more with him than the accolades of being a Pro Bowl running back or the substantial contract he received several years ago."
San Francisco 49ers linebackers Jamie Winborn and Saleem Rasheed, both Alabama natives, are two more NFLers who will be new college graduates this year. Winborn and Rasheed are three and two years removed from their college careers, respectively, but wasted little time in returning to school.
"I went to a great academic school, and I just wanted to feel like I didn't waste my time," says Winborn, a third-year player who will earn his degree in human organizational development in July from Vanderbilt University. "I learned so much there that it's only right that I come out with my degree."
Rasheed entered the NFL Draft in 2001 after three seasons at the University of Alabama.
"Everything I start, I like to finish," says Rasheed, who also graduates in July. "I passionately started my (marketing) degree with the intent of finishing it and that's what I promised myself I would do. First of all, I do it for myself, then for my family and then for all those kids back home who look up to me. Alabama football is everything to them. If they see role models who don't think school is important, then they might not think it's important. I wanted to set an example."
NFL Player Development was created in 1991 by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to assist players and their families in their lives off the field.
In the past five offseasons, more than 170 players have earned their degrees through the program, with at least 250 enrolling in courses each year.
Following are some NFL veterans who earned or will earn their college degrees this offseason:
Kansas City T Darnell Alford
(Boston College) Human Development Learning
Kansas City S Henry Baker
Dallas K Billy Cundiff
Cincinnati P Travis Dorsch
Carolina G Derrick Fletcher
Green Bay RB Ahman Green
Denver C Ben Hamilton
(Minnesota-Twin Cities) Engineering
Seattle TE Ryan Hannam
(Northern Iowa) Accounting
Carolina TE Keith Heinrich
(Sam Houston State) Statistics
Arizona C Nathan Hodel
(Illinois) Business Administration
San Francisco LB Saleem Rasheed
Tampa Bay QB Jim Miller
(Michigan State) Materials and Logistics Management
Seattle CB Shawn Springs
(Ohio State) Sociology
Detroit DE John Taylor
(Montana State) Health & Human Performance
Atlanta DT Ryan Watson
(Appalachian State) Health Promotion
Baltimore DE Tony Weaver
(Notre Dame) Political Science and Computer Application
Seattle CB Willie Williams
(Western Carolina) Sports Management
San Francisco LB Jamie Winborn
(Vanderbilt) Human Organizational Development