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Jamil Northcutt leading an educational overhaul

Posted Jun 26, 2014

Director of player engagement broadens curriculum for Browns’ rookies

Dr. Jamil Northcutt is the Browns Director of Player Engagement. And he might have the most expansive role in the entire building.

When a brand new player signs a contract with the Cleveland Browns, Northcutt is one of the very few individuals who has already met the free agent. He’s a part of the prescreening interview process to gage how well the player’s personality will fit into the locker room. His opinion matters.

Next, Northcutt’s job is to make the transition for the new player easier. He’ll call the DMV to setup a license plate change and check on window tints. He’ll get on the horn with a few real estate agents the Browns work with, to ensure housing. He’ll also serve as the liaison between the players and departments such as pay roll, human resources, community relations and the front office.

“Playing football is probably the most stressful job in the country, maybe in the entire world,” said Northcutt. “Your job can be taken away at any moment in time. So you want to have your mind fresh and clear when you go out there. That’s what we try and do.”

Here’s where the Browns think they’ve found a gem in hiring Northcutt. As you might be able to tell from the doctorate in his title, Northcutt will focus on educational programs more than most player engagement directors in any sport.

While the Browns rookies have been working out and practicing, they’ve also been going to a crash course school in how to transition into the real world as an NFL player. It’s not just the standard financial prep on the curriculum either.

Northcutt has setup classes on the following subjects: social media awareness, brand management, law enforcement and sports psychology.

In recent years, social media, brand management and sports psychology have merged more closely together than you might think. Northcutt and other educators are tasked with a tough job of teaching NFL rookies how to deal with the lures fame can create. Everyone wants a piece of an NFL player.

“We direct these guys on how to set boundaries, basically how to say no, when to say yes,” said Northcutt, about some of the role playing scenarios they teach. “We want them take control of their life. Treat people with dignity and respect, but at the same time too, being firm in their stance about how to protect their own interests.”

Additionally, the organization’s heavy hitters each had sessions with the rookies. General manager Ray Farmer spoke about his high expectations and his time as an NFL player. President Alec Scheiner went over the NFL’s revenue system and the economics of the league. And Zak Gilbert, Director of Communications, instructed players on how to handle the increased pressure of an NFL media market.

“We want our guys to be educated,” said Northcutt. “But in a nutshell, we’re trying to help them find their identity.”

Northcutt’s role is larger than it was within the player engagement departments of Ole Miss and the Kansas City Chiefs. Regardless of his title, his personal mission statement remains the same: empower, engage and enhance the lives of his players and the people around him.

Northcutt assisted kicker Billy Cundiff in landing an accounting internship this summer. He’s encouraging several other players to take classes following this season to receive advanced degrees, like linebacker Craig Robertson did last month at North Texas. Offensive lineman John Greco was a part of a pancreatic cancer awareness event in Cleveland this past weekend. Ben Tate and Joe Haden held youth camps in their Maryland hometowns. These summer months are the perfect opportunity for players to the show the world they're much more than just athletes.

The job for Northcutt and other player engagement directors isn’t always gravy. He says his biggest challenge is seeing a player going down a wrong path, and they refuse to listen. Northcutt admits each player is different. Handling each individual on a unique level can make Northcutt’s job a tough one.  

“There are some players that want more help and guidance than others,” said Northcutt. “There’s some players that I have to go pull in at times, when I see them going down a path that might necessarily be good. There’s some I need to go pull in when I see some potential in them. You have to build relationships with each guy.”

Training camp is about one month away, and it’ll be the busiest time of year for Northcutt and his staff. Anytime the Browns make a transaction, somebody new is added to the fold. Players will be shuffling in and out of the facility like it’s an airport. But Northcutt explained he stays in contact with any player the Browns release to make sure they still have all the essential tasks of leaving the city taken care of.

“We are here for them, period,” said Northcutt. “Not just when things are good.”

Technology and circumstances are constantly changing and affecting player engagement in the NFL. But Dr. Jamil Northcutt’s goal will remain the same: helping players reach their highest potential.

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