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Inside the Fanatics & NFLPA Externship Program

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Fanatics and the NFLPA restarted their externship program this year, giving players the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the company.

Fanatics has been part of the NFL Players Associations‘ (NFLPA) offseason externship program for the past seven years, but the online sports retail giant has not participated in the last two due to COVID-19. That all changed this year when the company made its return with participants, Robert Turbin, Andrew Dowell, Tyrone Wheatley, Derwin Gray, Isaiah John, and Joshua Coker.

The NFLPA externship program with Fanatics gives players the opportunity to learn from some of the company’s partners. The goal is to open the athletes up to different business opportunities for when their playing days are over.

“Fanatics is built on sports and sports are driven by players,” Fanatics Chief People Officer Orlando Ashford said in a phone interview. “We see athletes as our partners. And the athlete portion of a player’s life is way shorter than their actual life. Whether they are in the league three or five or 10 years, they will still have more time figure out the other part of their life journey.”

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During the week-long program, players can work within the merchandising business in areas like product evaluation and designing personal logos, while also meeting with the product development team. Players can also work on the social media, marketing, and finance teams.

“Because they are such critical partners to us, we think this is the right thing to do and it is also good for our business to have athletes in signifiant roles around the company,” Ashford said. “Fanatics is a fast-growing company — we are approaching 20,000 people here and as we continue to expand our footprint in and around sports. As we do that, we want to see career-oriented roles within Fanatics and this program will hopefully allow us to do that.”

Dowell, a linebacker for the Saints, spent three years in New Orleans after initially going un-drafted.

“I’m always seeking knowledge and want to do different things in the offseason while I’m still playing so that when it is time to transition, it is a bit easier,” he said in a phone interview. “Learning is something I pride myself on and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t taking advantage of the externship program this offseason.”

Andrew Dowell (Courtesy of Fanatics)

Whereas Dowell is 26 years old, Turbin is 33. Turbin was a member of the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl win in 2013, and also played for the Browns, Cowboys, Colts, and even in the Fan Controlled Football League. The former Seahawks running back has not played in the NFL since 2020. Like Dowell, Turbin heard about the opportunity to work under Fanatics back in 2020, but COVID-19 delayed things.

“I have already transitioned,” he said. “My career has launched in a few different phases already but I want to work at Fanatics. The reason why I’m here this week is because I feel like I can bring value to this company. One of the things that I try to tell the young guys that I advise is I wish I did a better job of compartmentalizing in the offseason.”

Turbin went on to say, “we do a good job of doing all the things that it takes to do our best on the field but we don’t always exercise alternative mediums when we are not playing.”

Fanatics said the age of its attendees varies from year to year, but everyone from rookies to veterans and retired players have participated.

“Moving forward, one of the things I’d like to build into this is self-reflection assessments, skill assessments. and then matching what comes from those tests with their personal interests,” Ashford said. “We can try to make connections with what they want to do and how they were evaluated from there.”

He continued:

“All athletes have inherited skills that they bring to the table from being involved in sports. Discipline, leadership, tenacity, grit, hard work, collaboration, those are all things that companies values. Fanatics has a lot of different businesses and inside of those are a ton of different jobs. We are giving these players perspective on things they can do [while] also talking to them about career transition, resume building, personal brand building, building your presence on LinkedIn and more.”

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About The Author
Randall Williams
Randall Williams
Randall Williams is a former Staff Writer at Boardroom specializing in sports business and music. He previously worked for Sportico, Andscape and Bloomberg. His byline has also been syndicated in the Boston Globe and Time Magazine. Williams' notable profile features include NFL Executive VP Troy Vincent, Dreamville co-founder Ibrahim Hamad, BMX biker Nigel Sylvester, and both Shedeur and Shilo Sanders. Randall, a graduate of "The Real HU" -- Hampton University — is most proud of scooping Howard University joining Jordan Brand nearly three months before the official announcement.