While some NFL players want to travel and relax in the offseason, Karim Barton wants to work — and not just on football.
The 25-year-old offensive lineman is already planning for his post-playing life by gathering as much real-world experience as he can. Barton spent time with Under Armour, Fanatics and Mattress Firm in previous years, and over the past few weeks took his preparation in a different direction by working on Capitol Hill with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.
Barton is one of 41 men who took part in the fourth year of the NFLPA’s externship program that gives players opportunities to see what it’s like in a corporate, financial, charitable or political environment. Three players — Barton, free agent safety Dion Bailey and Seattle Seahawks lineman William Pericak — earned the chance to extern on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, Barton sat in on a committee hearing on anti-doping measures that included testimony from Michael Phelps, and in his 2 1-2-week crash course on all things congressional he has researched immigration issues, helped draft legislation, and attended a town hall meeting in Clarke’s Brooklyn district.
“He’s gotten a really good lens into what it is to one, be a legislator, but beyond that be the staff person for a legislator,” Clarke said. “He really got a full exposure to what it is to be an advocate, to be a leader, to support someone who’s in an office like this and what it takes to keep all the trains running.”
Barton, who grew up in Jamaica and has a “broad” business administration degree from Morgan State, isn’t sure if he wants to get into politics or law. He just realizes football isn’t forever.
“Before I came into the NFL it was just my obligation to make sure I have a solid backup plan, to always be proactive outside of football,” Barton said in an interview in Clarke’s office this week. “I do these internships because I want to find that one passion that’s going to get me out of bed like what’s getting me out of bed for football.”
Now with the Tennessee Titans after stints with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, Barton didn’t waste any time trying to discover that passion. He hasn’t found it yet, but has a head start on a lot of NFL players who don’t consider their options until they’re almost ready to hang up their cleats.
Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Jake Long, 31, is one of those guys. Long attended the NFL Business Academy last week in Ann Arbor, Michigan, along with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and others, and came away wishing he would’ve taken part in the program at a younger age.
“Football can be over at any moment for us,” Long said. “Guys know that and we’re starting to have more programs like this and to get more educated and think about life after football because the average career isn’t very long, and even if you have a long career it’s a short part of your life and you’ve got to have something beyond that.”
Barton, who hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game since turning pro, grasps that, which is why he was so eager to learn about e-commerce, politics and even bedding and mattresses. Not only does he think he has a strong foundation for his future, but he considers himself more prepared to return to football.
“Going through different settings have allowed me to analyze certain things differently, to conceptualize information,” Barton said. “Football is all about a vast amount of information that you have to be able to picture it at a fast pace. I just believe just going through these types of things just helps me in terms of being able to (think), ‘All right I’ve been there, done that,’ whether off the field or on the field.”
When he’s back on the field with the Titans, Barton can’t wait to tell teammates about how he was tasked with drafting a resolution to posthumously pardon early 20th century Jamaican-born activist Marcus Garvey, and got to attend a packed town hall meeting with Clarke in the place he was born but knows little about.
Clarke, who serendipitously is also of Jamaican heritage and happened to be paired up with Barton, said his experience dealing with the response to President Trump’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries — and other immigration orders and debates over the Affordable Care Act — will help him be a better citizen and a well-rounded person.
“I hope this will be something that just opened his mind to the realm of possibilities in terms of what he can do with his talent, what he can do with his passion, and how he can impact others across the United States and around the world,” Clarke said. “Karim has had an opportunity to experience the spectrum of that.”
Puzzled as to why more players don’t take advantage of the NFLPA’s externship program, Barton is glad it’s getting more competitive. A committed part of the program, he appreciates the chance to see life outside football, even if it means training at 6 a.m. before his Capitol Hill shift started.
“Not everybody gets to sit in on these big meetings and hear how these people go about their issues and how they’re planning to solve it,” Barton said. “Very busy from 9 to 6, which is cool, man. This is the real world, and I’m just going at it full fledge.”