FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — This is different. It’s the first chance to hear from outside linebacker Brandon Copeland since he agreed to a one-year, $1.05 million contract with the New England Patriots on March 22, and the topic is … personal finance and investments during the coronavirus pandemic?
Indeed, it’s 5 o’clock on a Tuesday, and “Professor Cope” seems to be in his element.
The 28-year-old welcomes more than 50 peers from across the NFL, a group including linebackers K.J. Wright of the Seattle Seahawks and Tahir Whitehead of the Carolina Panthers, and then sets the agenda for the “Money Talks” webinar.
“I know we have a lot of time at home now,” he says in his opening remarks, referencing an unprecedented offseason due to COVID-19. “I thought it was really important for us all to get together, collaborate — iron sharpens iron — and utilize some of this time to look at our opportunities.”
The NFL Players Association has put its muscle behind the five-day, five-part series as one of many personal growth opportunities it provides members.
“We want to make sure every player has access to our financial programs and services,” says Dana Shuler, a senior director at the NFLPA. “The fact that a player leader like Brandon cares so much about this issue makes the topic more accessible and our mission more effective for all players.”
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Darius Jennings has known Copeland since their time as high school teammates at the Gilman School in Baltimore and relays that he took part in the webinar for multiple reasons.
“One is because I have extra time on my hands. I’ve made a conscious effort to stay productive for the majority of the day, and to make the hours count,” Jennings said. “Even though our daily routines have been altered, we can still find ways to get better in different facets of our lives. Another reason is simply the unknown. We are all learning about COVID-19 simultaneously. There is no telling what the future holds and this was a great opportunity to educate myself and find certain ways how my family and myself can come out of this better than we were before. Financially and mentally.”
Copeland graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 and teaches a financial literacy class on campus. He owns two real-estate companies — one that specializes in rentals, the other focusing on buying properties and then renovating them to sell for a profit. Copeland also started his own charitable foundation and has experience in broadcasting, hosting events and motivational speaking.
“I give you that background to tell you that I’ve put a lot of time and effort and research into some of the things that I’m going to teach you. Some of these things are more specific to the coronavirus crisis today, but we’re building this thing out,” he says at the beginning of the 90-minute webinar.
Copeland also shares a personal touch, saying, “I’m a husband, a son, a father, a brother, and a believer in Christ. A lot of us introduce ourselves and the first thing we say is, ‘I am a wide receiver for here. I’m a player for here.’ But this is an amazing time for all of us to get comfortable in our own identity off the field, because that’s what we’ll have forever.”
And with that, Professor Cope puts a slide on the screen headlined “WHAT’S THE POINT?!”
“If you don’t budget properly, you won’t be able to invest. There are people who have invested prior to this crisis, and they haven’t budgeted their emergency funds properly. Right now their investments are decimated and they don’t have the emergency fund to live through however long this lasts,” he says.
So Copeland, who grew up in Sykesville, Maryland, hopes to help.
“The biggest thing is creative thinking in critical situations,” he tells the group. “In my time interning at [investment bank] UBS, interning on Wall Street and hedge funds and everything, what I want to empower you to realize is this: You see people on CNBC, Bloomberg, and they’re spitting out a bunch of information. Sometimes you can [get] overwhelmed and be thinking, ‘Wow, these people are so smart.’
“Well, they’re just giving their opinion. They just put in work, put in time, put in research, and ultimately, they’re giving their opinion. You have an opinion as well. Getting creative in critical situations is all this is, and that’s what we’re going to work on over these next five sessions. It’s about understanding it more, so you can formulate your own opinion and execute on it. That’s the way you carve out money.”
Copeland also understands his audience is diverse.
“This is a ‘no judgment zone,'” he tells them. “We’re all at different levels, different places in our financial literacy. But we can build together. I don’t want anyone feeling uncomfortable asking a question. Let’s all build each other up.”
As he continues the discussion, Copeland is in command as he posts different slides on the screen. One of them is a question — What best describes your thoughts about COVID-19? — that calls for action in the form of a survey.
Multiple-choice answers include “stress about when the next check is coming,” “will we even be playing football this year,” “how can this be something that becomes a positive,” and “concern for my family’s health and well-being.”
“This is very scary to me personally,” Copeland says. “Everything is not about money. However, this can also be an opportunity to build ourselves personally and financially. To come out of this and to [have just] played video games the entire time — and done nothing to build yourself stronger — that’s not how I’m going to approach it. That’s the spirit where all this comes from.”
Throughout the rest of the webinar, he provides tips on things players can do personally to better themselves, highlighting the opportunity to spend time with family, the role of an effective financial adviser, why it’s important to maintain a budget, and checking all credit-card activity and bills regularly for excess fees, among other things.
Jennings, who spent the past three seasons with the Tennessee Titans, says he has great trust in Copeland.
“He has never claimed to be an expert, but he has had success dealing with his personal finances and is always willing to share his knowledge and bring others along with him,” he says. “As athletes, we live in a world where all people see are dollar signs and they try to take advantage of that. It’s nice having Brandon sharing the wealth and truly looking out for our best interests.”
Jennings says he plans to be at the next webinar.
Summing up why they have come together for this first session, Copeland says, “We have to find the beautiful things in this experience.”