Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Spearman hits books, not ballcarriers in spare time

Linebacker on verge of earning college degree

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bengals linebacker Armegis Spearman (#59) has his sights set on a college degree.
(AP photo)
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Bengals linebacker Armegis Spearman spent four years pursuing a business degree at the University of Mississippi.

He decided he didn't want to throw his time and effort away.

Besides, life as an NFL player doesn't last forever. At midseason, Spearman will reach the average length of an NFL career - 31/2 years.

Thanks to the NFL's Continuing Education Program, Spearman stands just one math class away from joining the roster of 200 players across the league to earn their college degree through the initiative since it started in 1991.

"I didn't go to college just thinking I didn't have to finish my degree," Spearman said. "I didn't take school lightly when I was there. It wouldn't make sense to not finish up."

During this, college commencement season, the NFL likes to point out the success of its education programs and the educational level of its players.

More than 50 players - including former Bengals fullback Lorenzo Neal (Fresno State, criminal justice) and current tight end Tony Stewart (Penn State, recreational management) - have earned their college degrees in the past three years.

NFL players and their wives have enrolled in more than 3,400 semesters of college classes through the program since 1991. In the same time, the league has helped players land more than 1,900 internships with some 50 companies.

Many players bring classroom success into the league. Between 35 percent and 40 percent of NFL players have their degree before playing a down of pro football, and 75 percent of those without their degree are within 15 credits (one semester) of finishing coursework.

The Bengals had no official breakdown of current players who have a college degree. But 24 of the 66 veteran players and drafted rookies profiled in the team's 2002 media guide list a college degree. That puts the Bengals in line with the league average (36 percent).

For Spearman, the league's help arranging his schedule at Mississippi and attending to details made the difference between him going back to school or not.

Spearman said he worked through Eric Ball, Bengals player relations director, who then contacted the league to take care of necessary paperwork.

"It actually did make it easier for me," said Spearman, who has used the NFL's education assistance after each of his three pro seasons to close in on his degree. He might try to squeeze his final class in between the end of voluntary workouts and the start of training camp.

"During the season, we got all this going on, and we didn't have time to call and sit on the phone all day to see what classes we needed and get in touch with all the right people and get everything set up financially," Spearman said.

Mike Haynes, a Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback for the Patriots and Raiders (1976-89), is the NFL's vice president for player and employee development. He oversees programs designed to help players develop careers and opportunities beyond their playing days.

"The reality that a lot of football players don't want to face is that they're eventually going to have to make a decision about their life off the field," Haynes has said in an interview. "Some athletes equate life after football to death. It's scary and unavoidable."

For Spearman, the future holds not just his business degree but also advanced work in real estate. "Football," he said, "doesn't last forever."


E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com

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