Steve Young joins Meta to add virtual reality to Atlanta’s Johnson STEM Activity Center

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young came to Atlanta last month and played some football again, but this time, in the metaverse.

He attended the opening of Creator Zone at Atlanta’s Johnson STEM Activity Center, a place where teens can use Meta Quest 2 headsets to experience and create in virtual reality. The center is already home to a robotics and STEM program for kids run by Lonnie Johnson for the past 17 years. He caters to students from elementary to high school, reaching 10,000 a year.

Since 2006, Young and his fellow NFL legend Jerry Rice have run a nonprofit to bring technology hubs for children to underserved communities in San Francisco called “8 to 80 Legend Zones.” They met Johnson during the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2019 and have been working together ever since funding programs to give kids a chance to learn game coding. Now they are partnering with Meta, the corporate successor to Facebook, in hopes of inspiring young Atlanta teens to enter the fields of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Credit: Rodney Ho/AJC

Credit: Rodney Ho/AJC

“There is so much opportunity here if we can level the playing field and bring access to everybody,” said Young at the event, which includes students from Ron Clark Academy. (Rice had to cancel at the last minute.) “The dream is the empowerment. How many kids never get exposed to what might reveal their genius?”

Johnson, a NASA alum and inventor of the Super Soaker, now works with scientists developing a new generation of batteries and power generation on top of his education programs. He thinks Meta will help facilitate research by enabling scientists all around the world to work together in the metaverse. And the next generation, he said, will make the difference.

“I want to see kids grow and gain self confidence,” he said. “This is a sport where every kid can go pro.”

Troy Jones, who runs Miami-based Status Pro, came to the event to show off his new NFL Pro Era using Oculus Quest VR. He showed Young how to play and was not surprised that Young figured it out quickly. “He threw some touchdowns,” Jones said. “He’s a natural!”

With NFL cooperation, Status Pro’s first version of the game replicates all 32 teams in their home stadiums but is smaller in scope than an actual NFL game. He hopes to eventually create a multi-player experience with 22 independent players on the field.

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho

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