On a crisp January afternoon in Los Angeles, Sam Brenner of the Denver Broncos and Valerian Ume-Ezeoke of the Pittsburgh Steelers dared to dream of the inevitable — life after football.
While in town for the sixth annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, Brenner and Ume-Ezeoke visited the Los Angeles City Fire Department 66, one of the region’s busiest and most respected stations. The station’s captains opened their doors to the players, providing an all-access tour of a station that houses 16 firefighters. Also joining the tour were current firefighter and former Washington Redskin Manny White and Nic Harris, who played for the Carolina Panthers before becoming an actor on the hit series, Ballers.
Captain Girvan and Captain Fluxa explained that many firefighters were once elite athletes. The camaraderie and teamwork needed to be successful mirrors the spirit of the locker room as well as the NFLPA’s mantra: One team.
That natural fit made it easy for Captain Girvan to know exactly how Brenner and Ume-Ezeoke would fit in at the fire station. Because of their size and strength, he said they would be assigned to the “truck,” which carries the breaching tool, jaws of life and ladder.
The visit marked the latest enriching experience for the Brenner and Ume-Ezeoke, who met last year during the NFL Players Association’s Injured Reserve program (P.A.I.R.) at the union’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The program, directed by Nyaka Niilampti, is one of several campaigns that educate its membership in the areas of finance, wellness and lifestyle while equipping players with the tools needed to make a successful transition into a conventional work environment.
After missing most of the 2016 campaign due to injury, Brenner, in his fourth year, and Ume-Ezeoke, in his second, are confident that they will return to the gridiron stronger than ever, thanks in part to the experiences like these that teach them about the business of football and game of life.
Moments of networking, expansion of possibilities, and team spirit all culminated in an extraordinary experience for current players, former players, and the esteemed Task Force of Firehouse 66. Brenner and Ume-Ezeoke are confident in returning to the gridiron. When their time comes, hopefully years from now, the knowledge gained on this excursion and at the precipice of what’s next will assist in the players’ inevitable but glorious transition out of football.