When Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright spent two weeks in Washington D.C. with the NFL Players Association earlier this offseason, part of his externship program was giving a presentation at the end of his time there.
Wright's presentation outlined the need for more programs like the one he had been through, which involved 41 players working with 15 different companies around the country.
"The NFL needs to make it somewhat mandatory for us to do job shadows, internships, externships, so that we can get out of our comfort zones," Wright said. "We need to know what we like besides football, because when this thing's taken away from us, most of us don't know what we like. We go around like, 'What do I do now?' So we should have programs in place where we do different things to see what we're good at.
"Living off our game checks in the offseason, not doing anything but working out, there's more to life than that."
While players aren't required to spend their offseasons exploring career options beyond football, more and more are doing just that, including 11 Seahawks players who recently took part in a job shadow program at Microsoft: Wright, Bobby Wagner, Jermaine Kearse, Will Pericak, Nolan Frese, Tyler Ott, Rees Odhiambo, Michael Wilhoite, Germain Ifedi, Tyler Lockett and Kevin Pierre-Louis. Working in departments ranging from global security to sales and marketing to licensing to finance, players spent 15 hours over a two-week span learning the ins and outs of jobs that differ significantly from their current ones. In the past, players have done a similar job program with Starbucks.
"I thought it was cool," said Lockett, who worked in licensing and negotiations. "I think it's something everyone should do… It's important just because everybody has that window of being able to play in the NFL, and you want to take advantage of everything. Right now everybody wants to know about you, your interests, what you like, what you don't like, and there comes a time when you retire and nobody's really going to care anymore, so you need to take advantage of every opportunity that you have and be able to get to know as many people as you can. Who knows, you might get a job based off putting yourself out there, doing internships with a company like Microsoft or Starbucks."
Led by vice president of player engagement Mo Kelly, the Seahawks have strongly encouraged their players to prepare for life beyond football, and Kelly has been impressed both by the support he sees in that area from head coach Pete Carroll, and also by how players have embraced chances to broaden their horizons.
"It says a lot about the guys," Kelly said. "Coach Carroll talked about it, I talked about it, it says a lot about the players that they're thinking about their futures. Some of these guys, they've made a lot of money in their careers, but it's still a challenge for them to try to figure out what's next. During the offseason, they have time to get out there and kind of search to see what's next. I just applaud these guys for doing that. They could make any excuse not to do it, but it says a lot about these guys that they make time to come in, work out, they're done at 12:30, then they put on their clothes and go to work. That's encouraging to see the mindsets of these guys. It says a lot about those guys and their character."
Kelly also notes that having companies like Microsoft and Starbucks nearby provides unique opportunities for players.
"It says a lot about them that they're willing to open their doors to our players," Kelly said. "We can't thank them enough to give our guys a snapshot of major Fortune 500 companies so our guys can take a peek inside. That's special."
There are different reasons players choose to take part in a program such as this Microsoft job shadow, but for the most part, it's because they are all too aware of how brief NFL careers can be.
"This job isn't forever, plain and simple, that's what it comes down to," said Pierre-Louis, who job shadowed with the Microsoft Surface finance team. "It's a good way to still focus on job No. 1, while still planning for the next step.
And as different as playing linebacker and working in finance might seem, Pierre-Louis saw a lot of similarities as well: "In a lot of ways it's like our job—you have your meetings, you have your game plan, and everyone has a job to do to complete a certain goal."
For Germain Ifedi, having worked in construction in the past made it interesting to work in real estate and facilities, essentially allowing him to see the other side the job he had done before.
"In my past, I've worked in construction, so I was on the contractor side of things, so it was good to see the other side of what goes into operations and stuff, how the owners side wants to advance what they're doing, things like that," he said.
And even as a first-round pick, Ifedi knows he too has to have a plan beyond football.
"It's everything," he said. "You don't ever want to limit yourself. Football is such a rough and unforgiving game, and it can end so quickly for you, so you don't want to be left with nothing else to do, no plans for anything else. So it's good to see players want to look towards the future. God forbid our careers end too soon, you have a plan, you at least have something in your pocket, something you can say, 'Hey, this is an option for me.'… Things like this are invaluable. Even if it's only a few hours a day for a couple of days, an experience like that is invaluable."