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The NFL player moonlighting as an Ivy League professor

Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland is teaching a financial literacy seminar in the Urban Studies department at the University of Pennsylvania.


By Laine Higgins, The Wall Street Journal.

Brandon Copeland is not a typical Ivy League professor. He packs 263 pounds of lean muscle onto a 6-foot-3 frame, doesn’t wear much tweed and moonlights as starting linebacker in the National Football League.

Nor is Copeland a typical NFL player. A 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent after graduation rather than return to UBS, the investment bank where he interned for two summers in college. When he was waived prior to the 2013-14 season, he day traded options on the side while playing for the Tennessee Titans practice squad. After signing with the Detroit Lions in April 2015, he flipped houses in the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods. He currently runs a real-estate business with his wife, Taylor.

This winter, Copeland—now a starting linebacker for the New York Jets—is adding college professor to his long list of unusual side hustles. He is teaching a financial literacy seminar in the Urban Studies department at his alma mater, along with Dr. Brian Peterson, director of the university’s Makuu Black Cultural Center.

“I like to call this class Life 101,” Copeland wrote in a Facebook post announcing his new teaching gig in late-October. “This course covers the realities of life we all have to deal with regardless of what we major in or what profession we choose.”

Those realities include following a budget, planning for retirement, building credit and understanding how wealth and poverty pass between generations.

Copeland got the idea for the course while driving around Detroit to size up the city’s real-estate market with a group of former teammates in the spring of 2016. A Notre Dame graduate riding shotgun lamented that he wished his school had offered a class on “all the stuff we’re dealing with now—401ks, taxes, budgeting, credit, renting versus buying,” recalled Copeland. “I told him that’s a class that everybody needs, not just athletes.”

Copeland took his idea for a financial literacy class to administrators at Penn several times the following year, but was unable to win approval for a credit-bearing course. Dr. Peterson, who first heard about Copeland’s idea during a chance encounter with the linebacker while he was attending his five-year reunion in May 2018, was instrumental in turning the class into a reality.

Dr. Peterson suggested the pilot course could eventually expand to become a component of the university’s recent wellness initiative, Thrive at Penn. The pair drafted a curriculum over the summer and got the green light in October. More than 200 students requested to enroll in the 30-seat seminar, making it the most popular course offering in the Urban Studies department for the spring 2019 semester.

Chris Harrison, a senior majoring in Philosophy, Politics & Economics, planned his final semester schedule around taking Copeland’s class.

“I thought it would be kind of cool to have that on my academic resume, per se, to say, “oh I was taught class by an NFL player who’s also worked on Wall Street”,” he said.

One of the first assignments challenges students to make a personalized budget and stick to it in subsequent weeks. At the end of the semester, the instructors hope to have their students teach guest lessons on personal finance to high-schoolers in adjacent West Philadelphia public schools.

“Literally the first day of the class I’m going to tell the class that I am not an expert in all of this stuff, and no one is an expert in all of this stuff,” said Copeland. “I want you to leave this class feeling a lot more comfortable having these conversations about your money with people.”

Though Copeland is based in New York and often trains in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during the NFL off-season, he plans to be physically present for each weekly session, with Skype as a last resort. The arrangement could mean commuting to Philadelphia for a pre-lecture workout at Franklin Field, where he trained during his collegiate heyday.

As for the workload?

“We’re figuring out the whole grading papers thing,” said Dr. Peterson. “He’s totally committed to being starting linebacker for the New York Jets…so that may end up falling more on me.”

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Career Magazine: The NFL player moonlighting as an Ivy League professor
The NFL player moonlighting as an Ivy League professor
Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland is teaching a financial literacy seminar in the Urban Studies department at the University of Pennsylvania.
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