The Marshall Plan

By Michael-Louis Ingram & Wendell Simpson
Updated: November 15, 2008

Editor’s Note: In BASN’s continuing series about the plight of the disposable heroes of the National Football League, we take a look at a former player’s vision for solving a problem the League will never admit to…

PHILADELPHIA — When Leonard Marshall speaks, everyone should listen.

As a defensive stalwart for the New York Giants, Leonard Marshall had assets which belied and defied most casual observers. Speed, power, fluidity of movement and overall technical skill as a defensive lineman that paved the way for his inevitable entrance and acceptance into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.

Unlike many of his peers, however, as Marshall wrapped his arms around many an offensive player, he knew when to let go. And unlike even fewer of said peers, Marshall, while acknowledging the accolades, knew when and how to assimilate into the real world.

“That is without question the paradigm facing the player in his post-career phase of life,” reveals Marshall, speaking to us from Florida. “What do you do when the cheering stops? And, more importantly, are you prepared for life after you leave that locker room for the last time?

Marshall, who left LSU early for his football career, received his Master’s degree in Business Administration, and is now working on his doctorate while teaching sports management at Seton Hall University.

“When you come into the League, you are given a pad, a pencil and an itinerary – and you follow that itinerary knowing this is how it will be as long as you are there.

“But there is no pad or pencil or itinerary when you leave – and this is where so many young men – and older men – have fallen by the wayside.”

Implementing the Game Plan

While attaining his MBA, Marshall took mental notes of the situation regarding the class action suit against NFLPA and Players, Inc. as well as sharing his feelings and listening to other peers and current players in the League. “I observed what was going on around me and I could see there was a void in this transitory phase of these players’ lives.

“So I began working on a formula that would address some of the very issues everyone talked about -as well as some that didn’t merit as much immediate concern.

“I discussed this with some like minded gentlemen, and from those conversations we created the Game Plan Foundation.”

Partnered with Corey Crowder, a 10-year veteran of the NBA, and Andrew Neitlich, an MBA from Harvard, Marshall created the Game Plan Foundation (GPF); a non – profit organization designed expressly to provide medical and financial support for former players, most of who are unprepared for life after football.

Neitlich, a strategy consultant and author, reveals one truth that resonates from press box to locker room. “The sad reality with many of these kids we seek to reach is that in the three year span which encompasses most of their careers, they will make more money than they ever will again in life; but what they do with the money is the issue.

“But while many them squander the cash on self – indulgence, they lose sight of the fact one day the phone will stop ringing – and the need for their services will have disappeared.”

Marshall also says one aspect not to be forgotten is this psychological effect to many a player once that phone does stop ringing. “There is a ‘midlife crisis’ many of these young men come to grips with years before they chronologically are in sync with their work life spans – which creates a disconnect.

“Most of these guys are feeling in their early 30s what other men in the workplace feel 10 or 15 years later, and that can create serious depression into a young man who just an eye blink ago was running for the end zone or making a game – saving stop.”

Education is the key, according to GPF – but that doesn’t always manifest itself in the world of pro football supply – and – demand. “You have guys going to school to play football, but many of them have little or no education when they leave,” said Marshall, “and the rate of success for guys like that in the NFL is very, very small – try one percent.

“Unless an epiphany or real – world situation hits that young man, they don’t realize until it’s too late that they need to find a job once they are out of sports.”

Neitlich feels that through GPF, many former players can restore their confidence by remembering what made them successful in the first place. “Many of the attributes these players brought to the table make them prime candidates to be successful in the corporate world.

“The commitment and discipline they used to make it in the league can be used in going back to school – or going into business. There is never a fear of failure when a cornerback gets beat on a long bomb; they just line up and go at it again.

“Sometimes it just takes a rekindling of that fire to get a young man’s head straight and apply it to his present situation – be it a new job or getting his degree.”

Marshall revealed how little regard the NFL has for its charges. “When I came into the league, I had to join the NFLPA – every player does. And you had to deal with (former NFLPA president Gene) Upshaw whether you wanted to or not.

“But one thing Upshaw encouraged players to do was to take advantage of the programs that were at our disposal. Unfortunately, that’s not the case now as the NFL sprinkles crumbs down to the players. Out of a multi – billion dollar conglomerate like the NFL, only $45,000 was squeezed out for a program to provide continuing education for players.

“There was a young man who was with me on the Giants, his name was Philippi Sparks. You might remember him even more now because his daughter, Jordan, was the winner on American Idol.

“Coming in the league as a young father, I told Sparks the same things that had been passed on to me – to keep focus on what life would be like after football. Because for every cat that makes it, too many others are broke or broken by the game.”

Gridiron Sham?

When asked about the organization Gridiron Greats, which was founded by former HOF member Mike Ditka and ideally supposed to do what GPF is already doing, Marshall paused before speaking frankly about its inability to follow through on its mission.

“The thing with Ditka was he and his people started Gridiron Greats with the intention to help with the disconnection ex -players feel — but in truth, the organization hasn’t helped any one particular player.

“They raised money at golf events and such, but after their records show over $700,000 in donations, they have spent only $57,000 of it in a donation to a Catholic church, not any players. If you check their IRS 990 form, it shows the same.

“Two people that were with Gridiron Greats, my former teammate Harry Carson and Chris Visser (brother of sportscaster Leslie) resigned from the organization in large part because of this and a failure of management to grasp the concept behind those disconnected players. The person Ditka brought in to run it (Jennifer Smith) didn’t have a clue.”

(BASN attempted to contact Gridiron Greats Executive Director, Jennifer Smith to get her take on this, but as of press time, was unable to respond.)

“There are too many lives at stake, too many people we can help but no time to waste,” reminds Marshall. I made a point of creating this with others who would collectively bring forth a model which would work in providing a lifeline for former players that the League could utilize to generate a positive environment for those who play this game we love.

“While some may feel the League doesn’t owe them anything, improving their quality of life should be morally imperative to a League which wants to be seen as upright and a caretaker of the most popular spectator sport in the country.”

Rest assured this Game Plan will not be the last you hear from Leonard Marshall.