Charles Mann certainly taught some lessons during his NFL career, many of them to opposing quarterbacks — his 82 sacks still rank second in Redskins history. And Mann was also a gifted talker throughout his career, always a go-to quote for the media, and a popular pitchman for national ad campaigns.
He even got his name back in the sports pages recently, when it came out that he had offered some tips to current Redskins sack machine Brian Orakpo during one of the team’s road trips. “I was just giving him some practical stuff in the course of the game,” Mann explains. “I haven’t actually sat down with him-I’d love to sit down with him. And he had asked me to do that earlier, but I never got a chance to do that.”
Mann is sitting in a classroom as he tells me this, appropriately enough. Sacking the quarterback and talking were probably his most famous skills when he was a player; now that sacking the quarterback is no longer an option, Mann is making the most of his other gift.
We’re at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, an excellent educational center that’s most famous for a movie about its football team, and Mann is sort of here to teach, although that’s not exactly how he characterizes the day.
Mann has come to the school along with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management for one reason: “I’m here to start a conversation about finances,” he says, “about financial responsibility.” The conversation will include Mann; Jeff Wood, Managing Director of Merrill Lynch; and a group of T.C. Williams students, many of whom are part of the school’s Academy Of Finance.
It’s a topic that Mann feels is underdiscussed. “We have those conversations around sex education. We have those conversations around drugs and alcohol. We have those conversations around who you should hang out with. Those kinds of things. But nobody ever talks to them about finances.”
And this topic is especially important, Mann says, after the recent economic crisis. “It sure makes a lot of sense to begin to start having those conversations around financial responsibility as young as possible,” Mann says.
Wood is a natural at this, of course. It’s a big part of his job. “What we do all day at Merrill Lynch,” Wood tells the students, is “we help people. At Merrill Lynch, what we do is deal with people’s finances, to help them achieve their financial dreams everyday. And part of that problem is to help people retire. Part of that help is to help people maybe grow and build their businesses, like Charles has his own business. And a real big part of what we do is sitting down with parents and families to help them plan for college and how to afford that.”
So Wood’s presence makes perfect sense. But it might seem odd to have a professional football player — someone who, you might presume, made a ton of money during his playing days — speaking on financial responsibility. Mann believes that he’s as qualified as anyone. “I can speak on it — my peer group can speak on it — just like anybody else can,” he says. “How many times have we heard about professional athletes falling into hard times, selling their Super Bowl rings, you know?” (It needs to be mentioned that Mann brandishes an actual Super Bowl ring as he says this; just one, though, as he’s left his other two at home.) Then he continues, “It hits every facet of life, every aspect, and this is a conversation that needs to be had.”
As the discussion progresses, Mann and Wood try to impart three major points to the students, which break down something like this:
- It’s important to start thinking about money — and managing it — early in life.
- Make a plan, stick to it, and be prepared for setbacks.
- Have the right support groups when you need help — teachers, coaches, whomever.
Mann clearly believes in all of these rules, but the third one seems to especially resonate with him. He has surrounded himself, he says, with a group of what he seems to consider informal life coaches — including, among others, his former teammate Tim Johnson and his pastor — and that’s a big part of what’s helped him find his place in his post-NFL life. It’s also a big part of why he spends so much of his time in that post-NFL life teaching and mentoring others.
“I enjoy teaching,” Mann says, plainly. “I enjoy imparting wisdom to people. And, you know what? In this day and age, that’s important. Our parents did it to us. Our uncles did it to us. Our neighbors did it to us, when I was growing up. You don’t have that now.”
After Mann’s conversation with Brian Orakpo, Orakpo went out and had a two-sack game. The conversation he and Wood had with the kids at T.C. Williams probably won’t yield results quite so immediately, but — Mann believes — the impact of a talk like that one can be more dramatic than any hit on a football field.
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