Chase Minnifield was evaluated as a potential second-round draft pick by the NFL Advisory Board heading into his senior season at the University of Virginia. Despite the high assessment, the cornerback who tied for fifth in the nation with six interceptions had bigger aspirations to be a first-round choice, so he returned to school for his final year of eligibility.
After 50 tackles and three more INTs during the 2011 season which helped propel the Cavaliers to their first bowl game in four years, Bleacher Report published a story that spring entitled: “Chase Minnifield: 6 Traits That Make NFL Draft Prospect an Ideal Pro.”
The 2012 NFL Draft came and went. Minnifield’s name though wasn’t called among the 253 selections. He signed with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent, but was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list before training camp while recovering from microfracture surgery. That July, he tore his ACL. Minnifield spent the next two seasons bouncing between the active roster and practice squad, playing six games for the Redskins in 2014. He was then waived, re-signed to the practice squad, suffered a concussion then was released again.
“Athlete, athlete, athlete was my focus,” Minnifield said. “I could never get to that step of humbling myself while in the league, but once I was out, I was like ‘We have to figure something out.’ You have to realize this isn’t going to last forever—it can be over tomorrow, the next day, the next week, and you have to have something to do in the future.”
While his NFL career was short-lived, Minnifield needed to alter his athlete-first mindset and focus his efforts toward a new life still not even 30 years old. He founded Helping Hand, a student housing-focused service provider offering security services, commercial painting, waste removal and commercial cleaning. He is also president of EZ Turn, an app and web portal to improve property staff performance, vendor performance and communication during student housing turn season.
Minnifield, who was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Sports list in 2019, was at the NFL Players Association offices earlier this month in Washington, D.C., to share his experiences in the league and his entrepreneurship afterward with more than 40 NFL and National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) players as part of the NFLPA’s second annual AthleteAnd Workshop.
The day-long workshop which kicks off the NFLPA’s three-week externship program provided attendees with opportunities to further their networks, hear from industry executives at Facebook and LinkedIn, fine-tune their résumés, and learn how to market themselves and their passions outside of football on social media.
Former NFL players including Spencer Paysinger, Justin Forsett, Jameel McClain, Derrick Morgan, Cameron Lynch and Minnifield also shared their experiences and offered advice to a group that ranged from rookies to eight-year veterans. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith provided the closing remarks.
“You can achieve your dream by getting to the NFL and have your friends and family back home think you’re a god, then three years later be back right where you were,” said Paysinger, whose TV show All American airs on The CW. “… Everybody wants a 10-year career, a 15-year career, but at the end of the day, that’s only a handful of people.”
McClain certainly didn’t take his time in the NFL for granted after spending part of his childhood living in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia. Currently the Baltimore Ravens director of player engagement, he told the AthleteAnd Workshop attendees to humble themselves first and foremost, knowing that nothing in life, let alone the NFL, is guaranteed.
“I walked into the league thinking I’d only play for a week so every day I got I was thinking about the transition out of football,” he said. “It’s that simple. Every day as a kid I was looking for my next meal, and every day in the NFL I was looking for my next meal.”
Dior Ginyard remembers how he came up with the idea for #AthleteAnd. He was browsing Twitter on the Metro ride home after work and saw a fan heckling former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant for not being on a roster. Bryant responded by saying he was more than a football player.
From that moment in 2018, the NFLPA senior player manager brainstormed how he and the rest of the players association could help the 1,900 NFL players be in charge of their own narrative. Sure, they were all NFL players first and foremost, but what else were they interested in and passionate about, and how could they share that with fans, media, teammates and the world?
Thus #AthleteAnd was born. Ginyard and the NFLPA told players to use the hashtag whenever they posted about life outside of football whether it was a charity they were passionate about, a business they were investing in or starting up, fashion, music, parenthood or writing.
As NFLPA senior director of player affairs Don Davis told attendees at the workshop, a player has four identifiers—the NFL badge, their team logo, their shoe brand’s logo and the name of the back of their jersey—yet only one is theirs and comes with them after their career is over.
“It’s not just a hashtag, it’s a movement people are buying into,” Ginyard said. “That ‘and’ box is going to last a lot longer than their name on the back of a jersey.”
With the rise of social media and the access between fan-to-athlete or brand-to-athlete more direct, athletes are now more influential than ever. It’s why The Players’ Tribune and Uninterrupted—whose slogan is ‘More Than an Athlete’—have grown in interest and influence. Athletes and these platforms can provide fans and viewers with more intimate behind-the-scenes content that used to be off limits to traditional media. Athletes respond to fans’ comments on social media to drive a more personal relationship. They can also promote anything from their favorite sneakers to near-and-dear charitable organizations.
Utilizing that platform, especially for their interests off the field, are vital as part of the #AthleteAnd initiative. Not only does the NFLPA support football players finding out what their “and” is, but also gives them the resources to further develop and invest in it.
“It’s super important for these guys to understand they’re walking into this league as a brand,” Ginyard said. “I think a lot of players assume that’s only available to the top-10 percent of players, but every professional athlete is a brand and every professional athlete has a platform and influence. Because you have influence, figure out what your makeup is, what your passions are and put it out there because people are listening to you.”
NFLPA Externship Program
The average NFL career is approximately 3.3 years. That means a player who enters the league at 21 could be done with his career before he’s 25. Now he has to figure out how to pay rent and bills not only that month, but the rest of his life because the thing he devoted his entire life to up until that point is now over.
While there are many transferable skills between football and the business world—dedication, teamwork, leadership, discipline—these real-world rookies are entering the workforce years behind many others who could have years of experience, networking and internships under their belts.
That’s why the NFLPA has its externship program. Spanning three weeks in the offseason (usually mid-February to early March), athletes are able to gain valuable experience with top organizations and companies across the country including U.S. Congress, FOX Sports, Gatorade, The Players’ Tribune, Fanatics, and United Way.
Seventy NFL players will work at 33 companies this offseason as part of the externship program. Carolina Panthers tight end Chris Manhertz is working in the NFLPA offices following externships with Under Armour in 2018 and FOX Sports in 2019.
“It’s extremely important knowing we only have an allotted time to play,” Manhertz said. “As players that time could be cut much shorter than we anticipate. For me, it’s about utilizing my offseason and utilizing my time wisely. I’m making an investment in myself in a way and figuring out skills, tools and networking opportunities to set myself up for future success.”
While Manhertz is a frequent flier to the externship program and workshop, some players including Detroit Lions defensive end Jonathan Wynn are utilizing the NFLPA’s opportunities and resources for the first time.
Wynn, who finished his rookie season in the league, will spend part of his offseason in New York City at The Players’ Tribune for his externship. A self-described #AthleteAndCreative, Wynn is a writer and creator who is coming out with a book in the summer, has a T-shirt line, and is potentially looking into podcasts as well.
“As an athlete we’re more than the helmet we wear and ball we play with, we have a brain and have qualities that make us useful outside of sports,” Wynn said. “For the NFLPA to have an event like this, I knew I had to take advantage of it.
“I wanted to do this now because I’m starting to understand my passions outside of football and I wanted to take advantage of it and tap into it now.”
With a potential lockout on the horizon in 2021 should the NFL and NFLPA be unable to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA)—ownership approved terms of a potential CBA on February 20 to send to the NFLPA for approval—Ginyard said players should use the potential work stoppage as an opportunity to plan for their future.
“Even with a potential work stoppage on the horizon we’ve spent the past year telling guys to save and start preparing now,” Ginyard said. “If there is a potential work stoppage, what else are you interested in? This is only a fire drill from when your playing days are over, so what’s next? Not even from a financial standpoint of saving money, but what else are you focusing your life on?”