NEW YORK (AP) — Not often is the NFL looked at as a family, what with concussion lawsuits and lockouts.
Troy Vincent is trying to change that through the league's player engagement initiatives, including its new "Legends Program" and a series of homecomings for former players.
It's something the former All-Pro cornerback is passionate about. A one-time president of the NFL Players Association and now the league's senior vice president of player engagement, Vincent oversees a myriad of programs open to anyone who spent even just a training camp in an NFL uniform.
"It's to celebrate the accomplishment of you being here, whether you were a starter or a nonstarter, had a 15-year career or just a short while in the league," Vincent told The Associated Press. "It's irrelevant how long it was, you represented the sideline."
Vincent and his NFL department are reaching out to former players, establishing a database for where they are and what they are doing. Already, more than 1,150 names have been added to the database, including many men who had not had contact with the league for years, maybe even decades.
By establishing a group of former players to develop, foster and manage alumni relations under the Legends banner, Vincent believes the league can establish a stronger relationship with a larger segment of retired players.
He insists that's necessary, allowing the NFL to educate retirees on the programs they could take advantage of — everything from commercial relationships to advocacy endeavors to alumni functions.
"This is not just about establishing a database, it is about being connected and staying connected to our game," Vincent says. "How can you become an active contributor to our game when you are not playing and the fans are not cheering for you? We want to give you a welcome feeling, have you share your experiences, tell us how we can support what you are doing."
A recent homecoming event in Manhattan drew approximately 30 ex-players. Former New York Giants center Bart Oates found the gathering "therapeutic" and believes the idea has legs.
"I like being able to connect with guys you played with or contemporaries who have the same life experiences on and off the field," said Oates, now an attorney and realtor. "There's a lot of commonality. You talk to other guys, find out what they are doing.