As part of the Celebration Bowl, the National Football League is holding its third annual NFL Careers in Football Forum on Friday at the Omni Hotel.
North Carolina A&T (9-2), champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, will face Alcorn State (9-3), champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, at noon Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to kickoff the bowl season.
The game serves as the black college national championship, which helped to produce Chicago Bears standout Tarik Cohen, a former North Carolina A&T running back.
Before kickoff, more that 180 students from Historically Black College & Universities (HBCU) will participate in the day-long program.
“The NFL Careers in Football Forum aims to drive awareness of career opportunities and create access that may lead to employment in sport,” NFL executive vice present of football operations Troy Vincent said in a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This forum connects opportunity with potential. The more diversity and inclusion of people, skills and ideas, the better the game of football.”
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Bianca Cacho, an administrator from Bethune Cookman, attended the inaugural NFL Careers in Football Forum in 2016. The event was open to students and entry-level athletic department administrators from Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference institutions. Cacho discovered an opportunity with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“The NFL provided tools like mock interviews with (human relations) staff from the different teams in the league and we were able to gain feedback from those breakout sessions,” Cacho said. “I also had the opportunity to make connections there that helped me gain opportunities working with the NFL Pro Bowl, attending NFL combine events and interviewing with three NFL teams.
“I feel that if I did not attend the conference I would have not come close to the opportunities that have led me closer to my career goals.”
Since 2016, the NFL HBCU Careers in Football Forum has introduced more than 180 students and entry-level athletic department administrators from 23 MEAC and SWAC institutions to career opportunities in professional football. This year invitations were extended to students from the CIAA and SIAC, of which Clark Atlanta and Morehouse are members.
The panel discusssion will be moderated by ESPN’s LaChina Robinson and will include See Ighedos, associate general counsel for the Carolina Panthers; Deandra Duggins, Baltimore Ravens Manager, Advertising and Branding; and Tron Stramper, Atlanta Falcons manager of events, Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Two students will have the opportunity to get hands-on experience working during the 2019 Pro Bowl and Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
The NFL will hold a group case study competition that will conclude with a first and second place winners announced at a reception held at the College Football Hall of Fame.
“The forum will allow us to drive awareness about what are the possibilities and then what exists outside of the playing field,” Vincent said. “Most of the time these young men and women see participates on the field, while not understanding that there is whole other world that exists: marketing, finance, legal, strategy, just technology, it’s a whole other world and often times we are not exposed to that. It’s an opportunity for us to get in front of the athletes, but the students as well.”
In addition to the league office, the leagues’ 32 teams offices will be represented.
“It’s a combination of club and league participation,” said Art McAfee III, the NFL’s senior vice present of player engagement and a Morehouse and Howard School of Law graduate. “Not only are their jobs at the league office, there are career opportunities that are available at the club level as well. There are 32 clubs that are also functioning businesses that have the same type of job and career opportunities.”
Cacho highly recommends the forum.
“The Careers in Football Forum really gives students from smaller HBCU’s an opportunity to be seen and heard in a setting that is hard to come by,” Cacho said. “My experience was amazing and I would recommend it to any student looking to get their foot in the door. Being in front of NFL executives is half the battle and the Careers in Football Forum gave me and continues to give students an opportunity of a lifetime.”
The NFL works directly with the schools to line up the top students.
“What’s the beauty of the forum is that we are getting the best of the best,” Vincent said. “The kids we do have, we’ll have time to spend with the athletes themselves, but want our finest. We want the young men and women that have this interest and the institution has identified them as the best of the best.”