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GRADUATION TIME

It's Graduation Time for Many NFL Players

Graduation time is here, and once again, NFL players — like 2004 all-stars Ray Lewis and Tony Richardson — are earning their diplomas.

Many of the players who earned their college degrees this spring did so through the Continuing Education Program of the NFL Player Development Department headed by NFL Vice President and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Lewis, who played in the 2004 Pro Bowl, fulfilled a promise made to his mother Sunseria by earning his degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland in May.

"This is an idea that you start with as a child, and no one can take it from you," says Lewis. "It was always important to me, and I told my mom I was going to go back and get my degree. This is special for her and me."

Kansas City running back Richardson recently received his master's degree in Business Administration from Webster University.

"People talk about what is important in life," says Richardson. "Going to the Pro Bowl was great. Going to the Super Bowl would even be better. But getting my master's degree is probably the biggest accomplishment in my life. It was a big day for me and all the people who have supported me — my family, my teammates and the Chiefs' organization."

Richardson is the first NFL player to utilize all phases of NFL Player Development to earn his bachelor's degree (in Education from Auburn in 2000), complete several professional internship programs, and receive his master's.

Graduation Day was extra special for the entire Richardson family as U.S. Army Sergeant Major Ben Richardson watched his son march at a graduation for the first time. Richardson's father was stationed in Germany during his son's high school graduation. "I know he's proud of what I've done as a football player," says Tony. "But I think he's more proud of what I did on graduation day."

Cleveland Browns linebacker Ben Taylor completed 17 credits at Virginia Tech this spring to earn his degree in interdisciplinary studies.

"Graduating from college has been a goal of mine for many years," said Taylor, the Browns' fourth leading tackler in 2003 (95). "Everyone in my family has a college degree. My mother (Jennifer) went back to school at the age of 39 to graduate from college. It was a great feeling to walk across the stage at the graduation ceremony and receive my diploma with my family there to support me."

NFL Player Development was created in 1991 by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to assist players and their families in their lives off the field.

In the past five offseasons, more than 200 players have earned their degrees through the program, with at least 250 enrolling in courses each year.

"All of our research shows that players with college degrees tend to make more money during their careers, play longer, and make better decisions," says the NFL's Haynes.

Following are NFL veterans who earned or will earn their college degrees this offseason:

Player College Major
Chicago G Bryan Anderson Pittsburgh Justice Studies
Cleveland DB Leigh Bodden Duquesne Business Management
NY Giants S Ryan Clark Louisiana State Mass Communications
Detroit TE Casey Fitzsimmons Carroll College Sociology
NY Giants LB Nick Greisen Wisconsin Business Management
Denver DT Darius Holland Colorado Sociology
Detroit S Terrence Holt North Carolina State Sociology
Cleveland S Michael Jameson Texas A&M Agriculture Development
Baltimore LB Ray Lewis Maryland Business Administration
Dallas CB Donald Mitchell SMU Business
Indianapolis RB James Mungro Syracuse Selective Education
Indianapolis T Jim Newton Utah State Criminal Justice
San Diego WR Kassim Osgood San Diego State Sociology
San Francisco QB Tim Rattay Louisiana Tech General Studies
Kansas City RB Tony Richardson Webster University Masters of Business Administration
Cleveland LB Ben Taylor Virginia Tech Interdisciplinary Studies
New England LB Mike Vrabel Ohio State Biochemistry
Arizona DE Fred Wakefield Illinois Kinesiology

Reprinted by permission of USA Football.