Eventually, every athlete must face a harsh reality that his playing career is over and enter a transition period. Some are more prepared than others when it comes to figuring out what that next chapter looks like.
For three-time Super Bowl champion Bart Oates, preparation began long before his athletic career ended.
Oates played 11 seasons in the NFL, three years in the USFL, and was a five-time Pro Bowl center for the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants, one with the Niners and two USFL championships with the Philadelphia Stars.
Oates earned his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University in 1983.
While still an active player, he attended law school classes during the offseason and graduated magna cum laude with a Juris Doctor degree from Seton Hall Law School in 1990. His primary focus of practice was real estate and health care.
“During the offseason with the Stars, I had finished my accounting degree,” said Oates. “Since I had left school early, I went back and finished my last semester and then I started law school right after that. After the third season, which we finished in the spring of ’85, that next week I signed with the Giants. I finished law school in ’90 but was still playing. I still played another five years.
I went and started practicing law during the offseason, and I used the summer before training camp started to study for the bar. I passed the bar for New Jersey just before the 1990 season began and the next season, I had a job with a law firm, and started working during the next offseason.”
The former center practiced law for the next 20 years.
Oates was a five-time Pro Bowl center for the New York Giants.
It was not until 2005, about 10 years out of his playing days, that he began to think about getting reconnected to the game in some aspect. The NFL veteran was approached by the NFL Alumni Association and asked about becoming the New York-New Jersey chapter president. The chapter had gone dormant at the time and was in need of a resurgence.
“I was like most players,” said Oates. “I did not get actively involved in the Alumni right way. I just had so much going on and there were all kinds of other focuses.”
Oates was hesitant to accept the role at first because he was not convinced at the time that the Alumni’s priority was about helping former players. What he knew it to be was more of a social organization that hosted golf tournaments throughout the year, but there was not much purpose.
However, he negotiated with the Association that he would take over if he could run the chapter the way he wanted and make it more about making a difference in the community and in the lives of former players.
Oates brought the chapter back to life by introducing a wellness program where he raised money for charity and was able to take a few former players to Panama, Mexico to serve the under privileged community. He also found additional ways for the alumni living in New York to get involved.
Due to his philanthropic efforts and dedication to the Alumni, Oates was awarded a seat on the board in 2011. When the Association decided to make additional leadership changes, he was asked if he would consider running for President of NFL Alumni?
“I was at a stage with my family and my career and with my practice that it worked out,” said Oates. “It was just a good fit.”
NFL Alumni President addresses chapter presidents at the Annual Meeting/Super Bowl of Golf in Las Vegas (2018).
Oates was named president of NFL Alumni late December 2017.
Since he became President, he has made it his goal to further foster what the Alumni’s mission was originally founded on.
“Our two main missions are ‘Caring For Our Own,’ which is our primary mission and ‘Caring For Kids’ which is really executed at the chapter level,” said Oates. “Ours, from a National perspective, is creating the benefits and programs that will help all of the former players. Whether it’s a gold jacket guy or a guy that signed in camp and never made a roster, he still has the same membership status as a gold jacket guy.
We spend most of our time looking for ways to improve the post-playing careers and the lives of the former players. We work on transition programs, just like Ascending Athletes does. We have health and wellness perspectives. There are educational programs whether it’s career advancement or financial assistance. Just helping guys wherever we can as needed. When COVID-19 hit, we had a program where a guy called us up, we would send him $300.00. It wasn’t a lot, but it was a way to show them that we care and were thinking about them. It’s the little things like that where we can make a difference in the guys’ lives that matter.”
Oates volunteering with the University of Chicago's My Very Own Library Program initiative to help more than 50,000 kids tackle reading. (2019)
What makes the Alumni different from any other retired player organization is it is run solely by former players. Their perspective is from the former player for the former player. They have stripped away a lot of the politics and additional issues that might get in the way of executing their efforts.
Oates encourages all former players to join the Alumni because they help build a brand. He says the shield that they wore while playing, they helped build that. Everybody in whatever capacity contributed in some way. Now they have the opportunity to leverage that brand that they helped build to make a difference, a positive impact in their communities and the lives of all the former players.
“The reason to join us is to continue that brotherhood,” said Oates. “It’s a little different because we are the coaches, the general managers. We are the guys not only on the field playing the game, but we’re also the guys creating the game plan. This is a chance to create a game plan to help people in our communities, help organizations. Here are causes. Here are needs. Whatever that might be whether that’s social justice causes, charitable causes. Our mission encompasses anything that does good.”
As far what the future holds for the Alumni?
Oates and NFL Alumni CEO, Beasley Reece have established and implemented numerous new programs for former players. Under their leadership, their teams’ most recent accomplishment will leave an incredible legacy honoring all NFL Alumni past and future.
“I work very closely with Beasley and our staff to create the programs and direction,” said Oates. “All of our accomplishments have been the result of a team effort.”
Earlier this year, the Alumni partnered with the Hall of Fame Village, LLC which will enable them to re-locate their NFL Alumni national headquarters which are currently in Mount Laurel, New Jersey to Canton, Ohio along with launching the NFL Alumni Academy complex and its related facilities and projects at the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village campus.