Every college football player's dream is to make it big in the NFL and for those in the Ivy League, life is no different. Recent Quaker players including Jim Finn (RB, 1998), Jeff Hatch (T, 2002), and Ben Noll (T, 2004) were talented enough to take their dreams to the NFL. While these former Quakers and the country's elite college football athletes selected in the 2005 NFL Draft were trying to find their spot on their respective NFL rosters, I had the chance to make it big with the NFL over the summer before my senior year at Penn - and I didn't even have to leave Penn early!
Over the summer I interned for the National Football League in New York City and worked in the Community Affairs group within the larger Communications and Public Affairs department. There I worked under the Director of Community Affairs, Beth Colleton, and the NFL's league spokesmen, including the NFL’s Vice President of Public Relations, Greg Aiello, and the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, Joe Browne.
As the sixth member of a talented Community Relations team, I was thrown into the intense world of the NFL on the first day of my internship and was able to make valuable contributions to the group from the start. As a community affairs intern, I was working on all of the NFL’s goodwill efforts and non-profit initiatives that stretch from the long running NFL-United Way partnership to the more recent Teacher of the Year program. For a league that generates billions of dollars in revenue, I saw first hand the NFL’s commitment to giving back to communities around the country and across the world. This commitment is exhibited through the NFL’s Join The Team platform which serves as the icon of the NFL’s dedication to the community, youth, volunteerism, learning, diversity, and health. I quickly joined the team and contributed to the NFL’s efforts by helping to organize league volunteer programs, creating "Join The Team" publications, and designing new fan development programming including the NFL Kickoff event in Los Angeles. I also served as the summer administrator of the www.jointheteam.com website, which acts as the public portal to the NFL’s off-the-field initiatives. Through my involvement with Community Affairs, I quickly learned how the NFL’s “Join The Team” efforts contribute to the NFL’s character in addition to enhancing the league’s business model.
Although I was kept extremely busy working on many of the league’s community relations initiatives, I still had plenty of time to learn about why the NFL is the most successful sports league and one of the most financially sound corporations in the world. It didn’t take long for me to understand why the league had been dubbed the “NFL Machine” by BusinessWeek in 2003. In early July I and the other NFL interns had the privilege of meeting NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Our meeting took place in none other than the Huddle Café, where we learned about the commissioner’s unparalleled leadership abilities and his commitment to leveraging the latest technology to allow fans to better experience and enjoy the NFL.
A great deal of what the commissioner spoke about was brought to life when I visited NFL Films headquarters in Mount Laurel, New Jersey where I was absolutely amazed by the state of the art facility that took the form of a digital playground. After a brief introduction by NFL Films president Steve Sabol, we toured the NFL Films studios, orchestra rooms, post production facilities, and even the camera-man preparation room which was modeled after a real NFL locker room (except in the place of helmets and shoulder pads there were 16mm film cameras and boom microphones). As we walked through the hallways full of massive photos of NFL icons including Joe Namath, Walter Payton, and Jerry Rice we were able to see some of the most sophisticated audio visual equipment in the industry that was being used to create unbelievable motion graphics and special effects to continuously capture the history of the NFL.
After the NFL Films visit, things at the league headquarters continued to heat up as the new season approached. As a member of the communications and public relations department, I was asked to write a number of stories for the 2005 NFL Kickoff Guide which was distributed to the nation’s sports media. The 90-page guide is a behind-the-scenes look into the NFL’s teams, players, and coaches; the kind of information and stories that football fans crave. As part of the assignment I interviewed Pittsburgh Steelers punter Chris Gardocki (1,045 consecutive punts without a block) and former Buffalo Bills long snapper Jon Dorenbos (a professional magician) in addition to writing various other stories about NFL players and statistical trends.
In addition to all of my responsibilities in communications, my internship experience would have never been complete without the relationships I met with a number of people throughout other departments at the NFL. I was able to inundate myself in information from the Special Events, Officiating, Football Operations, Creative, Marketing & Sales, Information Technology, Finance, and Media departments. From the NFL Network, to the Super Bowl, to the real stat tracking system, I was plugged in at the league.
My summer experience at the NFL was one of the greatest learning experiences and most exciting ten weeks of my life. I can never just sit back, relax, and watch an NFL game like I used to now that I know how hard my co-workers and the entire NFL staff work on a daily basis to make the NFL Machine as great as it is.
Written by Steven Flisler, SEAS'06