By Randy Norman
The NFL Broadcast Boot Camp is an annual professional development program put on by the league’s Player Engagement division. The boot camp is three days long and it provides the opportunity for current as well as former NFL athletes to gain broadcasting experience as they attend a number of educational sessions that are taught by experts in the industry. This year marked the 10th annual NFL Broadcast Boot Camp, and for the first time ever, it was held at our very own Bowling Green State University. In previous years, the Richard A. Maxwell Sport Media Project has collaborated with the NFL Player Engagement department to host a Journalism Boot Camp. However, the Broadcast Boot Camp differs from those in years past at BGSU as it exposes the players to a wider variety of on-air job functions in television and media.
I was honored to have been selected, along with seven other students, to serve as an Ambassador for the 2018 NFL Broadcast Bootcamp. As student ambassadors, we were responsible for guiding the players and visiting representatives to each of their designated sessions and assisting them as needed. There were roughly 36 players who attended this year’s boot camp, and they were split into four groups in order to make the breakout sessions more personal and engaging. Two student ambassadors were assigned to each of the four groups, which allowed us to get to know the players very well.
I was pleasantly surprised at how approachable and down to earth all of the players were. It was very easy to strike up conversation and I found that I had a lot in common with many of them. From having a conversation about Madden and 2K with Green Bay Packer legend Ahman Green, to joking with Jerry Porter about how big his earrings were, I enjoyed every interaction; engaging with each of the players was definitely a memorable experience.
Not only were the players very approachable, but the NFL staff and other representatives at the boot camp were also extremely friendly and personable. I had the pleasure of speaking with Lya Vallat, who is the Senior Coordinating Producer at NFL Films; and Marcus Smith, who is the Senior Director of Talent Relations at FOX Sports. Both Vallat and Smith were congenial, and they each provided me with valuable insight into the sports industry. I also had multiple encounters with Gerry Matalon and J.B (James Brown), and I had the opportunity to hear them speak in several of the sessions at the boot camp. Though my encounters with Matalon and J.B were brief, I could sense that they were sincere and their knowledge and expertise was evident as they spoke in the sessions and gave impactful messages to the players.
The most significant experience throughout the course of the boot camp was without a doubt being able to sit in on the sessions with the players. One session that stood out to me in particular was the mock press conference with longtime football official, Gene Steratore. In this session, Steratore sat in the front of the room and talked about his experiences as an NFL official. Once he was finished speaking, the players had the opportunity to stand up and ask questions as if they were reporters in a press conference. This session was intriguing to me for two reasons. For one, I was able to hear about football from a completely different perspective than what I am accustomed to hearing. I am used to hearing takes from players, coaches, and sports analysts. However, it is very rare, if ever, that we hear the official’s point of view. The second reason why I enjoyed the mock press conference is because it was cool to see the players switch roles, and have to be the ones asking questions rather than answering them. A memorable moment from the mock press conference session is when Bobby Brown stood up to ask a question and referred to himself as “Bobby Brown from New Edition News.”
At one point during the mock press conference session, Cameron Lynch of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reflected upon a time when he was in training camp and his performance on the field that day was so outstanding and he was so excited, that he felt compelled to milly rock (for those who don’t know, the milly rock is a dance that emerged into popular culture in 2015). Lynch referred to that particular moment of jubilation as his “Milly Rock Moment”, and he asked Gene Steratore what his Milly Rock Moment was in his experience as an official. As I was reflecting back upon my experience with the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp, I thought about what my Milly Rock Moment would have been.
I decided that my Milly Rock Moment was watching the players apply what they had learned in an on-air setting. One of the sessions required the players to actually go into the studio and debate a given sports topic as they would if they were on a sports television show. This moment was noteworthy for two reasons: not only was I witnessing NFL players’ debate who was going to be the top pick in this year’s NFL Draft, but also they were all extremely talented. In my opinion, each of the players in my group would make great on-air personalities and I am excited to see what the future holds for their broadcasting careers.
Overall, the 2018 NFL Broadcast Boot Camp was an amazing experience, and I have memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful program, and I hope that they continue to host the boot camp at BGSU so that future students will also have the opportunity to be a part of something special.