MINNEAPOLIS –Anthony Barr through his Raise the Barr Foundation has helped young mothers complete their education, but on Tuesday he had the opportunity to speak with a young crowd about the importance of academics.
Specifically, Barr was on a panel that spoke to young STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) students from Franklin Middle School about the ways technology and the sciences can lead to a career in the NFL, even if it's not on the field.
The theme of the panel, supported by the Verizon Foundation and Project Lead the Way, was "How do you get to the sports industry?"
Barr was joined by John Penhollow, Vikings VP of Corporate and Technology Partnerships; Aaron Amendolia, NFC VP of IT Services; and Genia Wilbourn, Verizon VP of Global Wireline Network Operations. The panel was moderated by NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala.
"Technology kind of rules my day from start to finish," Barr told the group. "We have iPads, and those are kind of like our life during the season. Everything is uploaded – all the game tape, all the playbooks, all the information you need for your week is uploaded to your iPad, so I'm kind of glued to this thing throughout my day, throughout the season."
Barr also highlighted technology that players use in the training room for recovery and rehab and pointed out team members he works without outside of the locker room, from video personnel to training staff and doctors, that all help an NFL team succeed.
"You don't really see the technology side of it when I'm on the field, but behind the scenes there's so much that goes into it," Barr said.
Penhollow shared with the students about the ways he helped U.S. Bank Stadium come together through technology, whether that be wireless capacity for the 66,000-plus fans who attend Vikings games or the technology behind the strategically placed video boards.
He explained that it's his responsibility to help fans have the best experience they possibly can while attending an event at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Penhollow later on in the afternoon reminded the group, especially the young ladies in the room, not to feel limited to one area or another but to pursue an area they are passionate about.
"I think the point we all need to make here is that, the way technology is moving, it's not just, 'The boys can do this and the girls can do this.' In our business, we're one professional football team and one market here," Penhollow said. "The reality is that some of the smartest and brightest people in our company are ladies who were young girls at one time asking the same questions you're asking."
Amendolia told the young audience that he hadn't always been interested in sports, but that his passion for technology intersected with the NFL and the role he's so passionate about today.
Wilbourn also shared her personal experience and the way her engineering and technology background started her career journey to where she now is a vice president of Verizon, one of the Super Bowl's major sponsors.
"When I was in middle school is probably when I realized that I would go down a path of math and engineering … because I'm a problem-solver," Wilbourn said. "As I traveled through high school and college, I took advanced math and science, and I had a NASA engineering scholarship. I got a degree in civil engineering, and here I am, a vice president at Verizon."
Following the panel discussion, the students were given the opportunity to direct questions to any of the speakers.
It only took a little bit of encouragement for the young people to open up, and they threw a number of tough questions at the panelists.
Amendolia was asked about preparing for a technological worst-case scenario – he addressed the power outage during Super Bowl XLVII – and Penhollow answered a question about keeping U.S. Bank Stadium warm, but not too hot, during the winter months in Minnesota.
"It's a little bit like when you're taking a test and you seem to know the answers. When the question comes up, you almost surprise yourself at times," Penhollow told Vikings.com. "So it's exciting. I love what we're about to embark on on Sunday, where everyone can see what we've been working on for the past few years. Our Vikings fans have seen it for the last two years, and now the rest of the world gets to watch."
Penhollow said he "didn't have to think twice" about being involved in Tuesday's event.
"This is one of the more enjoyable things I can do during the course of the year," Penhollow said. "Because I know that they have questions; I've gone through it before. I've done virtually every phase of this type of industry, so I feel like I can help."
During the Q&A session, Barr was asked about his role model – his mother – and about the Vikings 2017 season, but he also fielded questions about watching film, breaking down opponents and communicating the plays that he receives through his helmet from Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
He and the other speakers extended the session in order to make sure all of the students' questions were asked, and Barr encouraged them that "any question is a good question."
"They came around, and now they won't stop talking," Barr later said with a laugh. "I think we got them going a little bit, and hopefully they had a good time."
Barr appreciated the opportunity to participate in the unique discussion and hear from local youth who have big aspirations.
"These kids are the future. So hearing their perspectives and ideas, their wants and desires, is pretty cool," Barr said. "Obviously being an athlete's not going to be for everybody; I think it's important for these kids to understand that you can be a lot of different things and still be successful, still be considered 'cool.'
"You don't have to be in front of the camera all the time. A lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on is extremely important and extremely valuable," Barr added. "I think they understand that – it was a pretty solid group today."