From the Vault: Criticism of Eric Mangini and his Hartford Football Camp Should Stop

This past weekend Eric Mangini returned to Hartford for his Football Fundamentals camp.  The camp, which welcomes all players regardless of ability to pay, was once again a success.  News of camp, however, reminded me of the controversy that surrounded last year’s event.  I have posted last year’s article below.  Thankfully there was no such controversy this year.  Congratulations to Eric Mangini and his foundation for another job well done.   

Mark Mirko, Hartford Courant


A few years back,  my wife and I volunteered at Eric Mangini’s Football Fundamentals camp in Hartford.  Despite torrential downpours, the camp attracted somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 players, some from wealthy suburbs, others from poor urban areas, and even a busload of players from New Jersey (Mangini had just taken over the Jets).  All received instruction from an all-star roster of players and coaches from the New York Jets and New England Patriots.  After speaking with many long-time volunteers, we learned one of the most basic principles of the camp: every player can participate, regardless of his ability to pay the registration fee. 

 Following the conclusion of the day-long camp, we watched Corwin Brown, former Patriots defensive back and current Notre Dame assistant coach, interact with a high school player who attended the afternoon session of the camp. As I recall,  the player had missed the entire morning session of camp, on account of attending the funeral of a teammate who was killed in a drive-by shooting.  Brown asked the player if he’d ever been to an NFL game.  He said no.  Brown gave him his cell phone number and told the player to pick a game and Brown would get him tickets for him and a few of his friends.  As impressive as Brown’s gesture was, it was just a small example of players and coaches trying to help these young players in any way they could.

 This past weekend Mangini returned to Hartford to hold his camp.  An astounding 800 players attended the camp, and spent a beautiful Saturday learning football from the pros, including the rookie class of the Cleveland Browns, Mangini’s new team.  The attendance of the Brown’s rookies, and their method of transportation – bus – have attracted considerable attention.  Michael Lombardi, of the National Football Post writes as follows: 

According to some of the Cleveland rookies who made the 10-hour one-way bus ride this weekend to work in Eric Mangini’s camp, there was much discontent.  The trip to Hartford, Conn., was not a happy one. Let’s face it: All the talk about the camp being voluntary was hogwash.  What unsigned rookie is going to tell his head coach no and then expect to get a good deal?  Mangini controls everything in that building; you piss him off and you’ve pissed off the entire Browns kingdom.  I love the idea of Mangini having a camp in Hartford, but to make his rookies feel obligated to attend isn’t right.  I’m sure the NFLPA will look into this one.  

 It’s difficult to dispute the assertion, or at least the perception, that attendance of the camp was not voluntary for the Browns’ rookies.  Having once taken a bus to Buffalo to see the Patriots play with my Natick High School buddies, I can also attest that 10-hour bus trips are not my preferred way of travel.  Nevertheless, the criticism of Mangini accomplishes nothing.  It merely overshadows a great opportunity for these players to give something back and help some younger players.  

 The Browns have responded to the criticism by speaking of the other ways in which Mangini has attempted to instill a spirit of community service in his players: 

Since the rookies have been back, we have a lot of programs that are set up for them which are designed to improve them professionally, build team unity and also help serve the community. In fact, since they have been back in mid-May, they have visited a Veterans hospital and are scheduled to visit a school next week. 

Neither Mangini nor the Browns should have to defend themselves for encouraging players the engage in community service.  We have all heard the stories of the NFL off-season, during which nothing is truly optional.  But we’re not talking about players forced to place their health in jeopardy by engaging in full-contact drills.  We’re talking about a football camp for kids, many of whom are underprivileged. In virtually every profession, employees end up attending charitable events of their supervisors, managers and partners, knowing that failure to attend could be career-limiting.  It’s part of business, and its part of life.  And more often than not, we leave these events better for having attended. 

 Although a 10-hour bus ride may not be up to NFL standards, the outcry over this situation should stop.  The players, agents and NFLPA need to pass on this fight, whether the Browns violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement or not.  If the Browns’ rookies reflect upon their experience, they may just find that they gained something in Hartford this weekend, irrespective of their mode of travel. 

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