Byrne Identity: Ravens Rookie Workshops Would Make Us All Smarter

Rookie workshops teach players about finances, security, education, substance abuse, etc.

Posted by Kevin Byrne on Friday, August 3rd, 2012 at 11:53 am | Categories: Byrne Identity

We’d All Be Smarter If We Graduated From Ravens Rookie Workshops

Ravens Director of Player Development Harry Swayne was the starting right tackle on our Super Bowl XXXV championship team. That win gave him one of his three Super Bowl rings during his 15-year playing career. Plus, Harry’s a very smart guy who is a few credits short of earning his Masters in counseling.

As a rookie in 1987, after being selected in the seventh round of the NFL Draft by Tampa Bay, Swayne wanted a new car and had the money to buy it. He went to his local Saab dealer and saw a Turbo 900 sitting in the showroom. “I looked at that black car with the beige interior, checked the price on the sticker and knew I could qualify to buy it. I found a salesman, told him I wanted that car, said I could afford it, and he started processing the paper work. I paid the sticker price,” Swayne remembered. “I was so sophisticated.”

Ravens rookies are very unlikely to do something like that thanks to a set of “Ravens Rookie Workshops,” organized and administered by Swayne during the last three years. One of the 21 sessions our rookies sit through is a lesson on buying a car that includes car salesmen explaining the process they use to get customers to make quick, emotional purchases.

(Harry, not to top you, but I bought my first car when I was 20. Saw an ad in a weekly paper for an old soft-top Volkswagon bug. The owner wanted $160. Not knowing how to drive stick, I asked my friend Tom Wagner to go with me to look at the car. When we got there, the seller was in the driveway talking to someone about the car. I asked if we could drive the car around the block. At the end of the quick trip, Tom told me, “It works.” I then heard the potential buyer say: “I’m not paying $160. It’s not worth more than $100, and you won’t even get 100 for it.” With that, I stepped up and proclaimed: “Sir, I have $160 cash in my pocket, and I’ll buy the car.” The seller turned to me quickly: “It’s yours.”

I gave the man the $160 and proudly walked away. Tom, now a lawyer, looked at me, shaking his head, and said: “Nice negotiation.”)

Explaining our rookie workshops, Swayne said, “We’re giving a Masters in real life for a young NFL player. Some may not need every session, but they all attend all the classes.”

“We’re fortunate to have something like this,” third-year defensive end Arthur Jones said. “Every person could use a program like this. I think I’m better off in a lot of ways because of Harry’s program. It has helped me with my relationships with teammates, friends and family. It gave me practical advice on a number of money issues. It impacted my life.”

The sessions in these workshops cover a wide variety of everyday issues, including advice on finances, relationships, security, media training, education, substance abuse and self evaluation.

“Almost every workshop we did had a life lesson that, I think, will impact the rest of my life,” receiver Torrey Smith said. “We’ve all heard about the horror stories of athletes messing up, and you think about it when it happens, but when you hear it in a classroom with your teammates – sometimes from a person who was part of the horror story – it has great impact.

“It’s a lot of common sense information,” Smith continued, “but it was more than that. You sit there and say things like ‘I never thought of that,’ or, ‘That will never be me.’”

Darren Sanders, the Ravens director of security and a former Baltimore detective, emphasized common sense in his presentations to the rookies. “I’ve told them that common sense is your best security,” he said. “Be aware. Use good judgment, but then, don’t impair that good judgment with something you put in your body or the people you hang with.”

In a lesson called “A Call to Men,” instructors, including Swayne, tell the players that they can be a catalyst for change. “It’s basically about being role models,” Swayne said. “As Ravens, they have a tremendous platform to do good. We tell them to take advantage of that, to take ownership of their influence so they can impact someone or many people.

“Look at Tandon Doss a year ago at this time,” Swayne continued. “He was in the Inner Harbor and saw someone being attacked. He didn’t ignore it. He calmly stopped the altercation. He wasn’t apathetic. He committed to his community and may have saved a life while doing it.”

One of Swayne’s favorite workshops takes place at Baltimore’s “Sports Legends Museum.” Harry laughed when he described the reaction from this year’s rookies when he told them of the trip downtown to the museum. “They whined. A couple of them said: ‘We did field trips in grade school, and we have to do it now as a pro athlete?’

“I had Lenny Moore (Hall of Fame Baltimore Colt), Qadry (Ismail, former Raven), Paul Blair from the Orioles and Luther Atkinson from the old Negro Baseball League talk to the guys at the museum. The speakers were great, and our players really responded,” Swayne continued. “The players asked questions, and you could see that there are generational differences. One of our rookies asked Mr. Atkinson why there was a Negro League, not realizing that there was a time when Blacks could not play in the Major Leagues.”

“I think I would have thought of some of the things I learned in the program,” second-year running back Anthony Allen said. “But, I felt the whole program was very informative. Definitely life changing in some ways. It made me look at going out for some fun, my relationships with family and friends and dealing with people I don’t know differently.”

The workshops are real world and cover subjects like HIV and AIDS, players’ money and their families, the importance of finishing college and personal assessments. “We bring a person who gives standardized personality tests. The results tell players a lot about their personalities and how they will likely react in certain situations,” Swayne explained.

One session, presented by Elaine Pasqua, talks about the importance of responsible choices. “In this class, we challenge the players to stop and think, even in everyday situations, before acting,” Harry said. For example?  “We tell the players to eliminate uniform choices like who is picking up the tab for dinner. The player will have four choices. First, he can pay the bill. He can also split the bill. He can pay his portion and leave. Or, he can have the discussion before the dinner about the bill. That’s the right choice, and he’ll feel better about his decision because of that.”

Supplementing this program for rookies, Swayne also directs a mentoring program for the first-year players. “We match each one up with a responsible veteran. Men like Haloti Ngata and Matt Birk are great mentors. Veterans also sit through several sessions developed by the NFL throughout the season. “All of these programs give players the opportunity to make improvements in their lives and be better people, teammates and citizens,” Swayne added.

The Roar Of The Crowd

Before I reached the cafeteria at our facility for dinner at about 6:50 p.m. Wednesday night, I heard cheers from the players in the room. It was loud, and it was obvious they were enjoying something. I was a little surprised to find about 50 players watching an Olympic ping pong match – OK, table tennis – between two women from China. The players – Li Xiaoxia and Ding Ning – are remarkable, and our players ooohed and ahhhed with every quick and powerful hit. World class athletes cheering world class athletes. Pretty cool.

By the way, and I don’t want to speak for Michael Phelps – who is a Ravens’ season ticket holder – but I’m pretty sure he’ll accept an invitation to serve as an honorary captain at a home game this season. How huge will the reaction be when our public address announcer, Bruce Cunningham, says: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Baltimore’s own, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history: Michael Phelps.”

Should we do this for the Monday night opener against the Bengals? Or the Sunday night special when the Patriots come?

Talk to you next week,


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