Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

"Learn How to Position Yourself to Win": An Interview with NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

"Learn How to Position Yourself to Win": An Interview with NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris

Article excerpt

"Learn How to Position Yourself to Win": An Interview With NFL Hall of. Famer Franco Harris

The trip from the locker room to the board room has been traveled by few student athletes. A notable exception is Franco Harris, who is now owner, and an active manager, of two companies -- Super Bakery of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Parks Sausages of Baltimore, Maryland.

Born in 1950 at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harris grew up one of nine children in Mount Holly, New Jersey. He was a three-sport star in high school and received a football scholarship to Penn State University, graduating in 1972 with a bachelor's in food service and administration. Following a stellar career as a college running back, Harris played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he achieved National Football League Hall of Fame status. During his professional career, he accumulated many team and league records. He played in nine Pro-Bowls and was instrumental in four Super Bowl victories by the Steelers, earning Most Valuable Player honors for Super Bowl IX.

In this in-depth interview with Black Issues in Higher Education president William E. Cox, Harris talks about football, but also about his family, his education and the variety of experiences he had as a young adult...experiences that helped mold him as a leader in modern corporate America.

Athletes are often expected to be role models to the nation's youth, a position that Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman dispute. Do you agree with their view?

I look at it not so much as a position that I take, or a position that Rodman or Barkley takes. To me, that's not the issue. The issue is, how do the kids perceive it? And no matter how [Rodman and Barkley want to] look at it, kids do look at athletes as role models. They do look up to athletes and they follow their athletes.

So, to sum it up, it's not the athlete's choice. The choice has already been made by the kids.

Whom do you consider your personal role models -- both in your days as an athlete and more recently as a businessman?

One of my heroes was Jim Brown. There's no doubt about it, he was a great running back. Being a running back myself, I wanted to emulate him. Other than that, I was a big Philadelphia Phillies fan. Growing up outside of Philadelphia, I followed a number of their players. I just enjoyed sports so I followed their careers. But not to the extent where I thought about them all the time.

As far as business goes, I am trying to learn as much as I can. I like to follow people who have built successful companies and read about what it takes to build a company into a successful venture. I still use a lot of the same views on winning to help me in business.

So many successful professional athletes abandon their goal of completing their college degree. What personal drive propelled you toward graduation?

Actually, I never went to Penn State with the intention of playing professional football. I went there to get my education, to get my degree, and go to work after I graduated -- and, while I was there, to play football also. I graduated in four years and was fortunate to have been drafted into professional football. So I look at it as if I had a thirteen-year interruption before I got to do what I really wanted to do, which was to go to work and get involved in the business world. Football really helped me in a lot of different ways by allowing me to meet people. I think it gave me time to mature, to get some things together. But, during my collegiate days, my mind was set on getting that degree and going out to work. That was number one.

You used athletics as a means of acquiring a solid foundation in education?

Yes. But I have to admit that I never thought about college growing up. We grew up in the projects. I don't think I really knew any college graduates. Not being around college graduates, you just didn't think about college. And even though I always had a business career in my mind, college never really entered the picture because we never talked about it. …

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