EAGAN, Minn. – Kentrell Brothers was more than happy to spend part of his day off talking with Twin Cities youth.
The linebacker participated in a panel for the Vikings third annual Character Playbook Experience, hosted last Friday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. He shared with young people experiences from his childhood that have helped him develop into the person he is today.
"Just the opportunity itself is huge, because a lot of guys don't get the chance to talk directly to kids and tell them about their own experience," Brothers said. "Growing up in Oklahoma, we didn't have any professional teams, so we didn't really get to have those types of high-profile athletes come to talk to us. If I would have had this as a kid, it definitely would have helped.
"But going through those personal trials helped shape me into who I am today," Brothers added. "Coming out here and giving back, I feel like that's just my way of doing what I need to do."
Brothers was joined on the panel by former Vikings safety Anthony Bass, who now serves as a senior program manager for the NFL United Way; United Way Director of External Engagement Leslie Wright; and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader, Maddie. The panel was facilitated by KFAN personality Carly Aplin.
The group of students was made up of middle schoolers from Seward Montessori, Anne Sullivan and the American Indian Magnet School.
The four panelists spoke about the importance of developing high character through the positive influences of friends and family while recognizing the dangers of outside influences such as peer pressure or media messaging.
The Vikings recently hosted children from local middles schools at the TCO Performance Center as part of the NFL and United Way's Character Playbook program.
Following the panel discussion, students had the opportunity for a Q&A with the four speakers and asked about topics such as role models, who the panelists personally go to for advice, techniques they use when frustrated or stressed and suggestions for positive use of social media.
"This is my third [time] being on the panel, and it's so important to listen to the questions and get the real desire of the children to know why character is important and put it in applicable terms that they can understand," Wright said. "That's what I love about this. Just being able to meet with them and engage with them is a blessing."
Bass added that he's grateful for an opportunity to impact young people through the NFL.
"I think the NFL has a platform that most other organizations will never have, and for them to dedicate a small space of their time and effort in order to help build our community, that's invaluable," Bass said.
The Character Playbook event at TCO Performance Center capped off an online curriculum series that students completed in the classroom.
Ben Knause, a teacher at Seward Montessori School, called the online course "awesome" and emphasized the way it unified his students.
"It's highly engaging. They're pretty motivated by it, and it's good learning," Knause said. "If they have questions, they talk to each other and help each other. It's nice to see kids that don't usually interact with each other sitting together and helping each other with part of it. It makes them better people. … A lot of the things they know already, but it really reinforces it.
"I use the word 'choices' all the time in my classroom, and I think they get annoyed hearing it from me," Knause added with a smile. "But if people that they look up to like Kentrell and [the other panelists], they use those same words, it has power. … That's a huge deal. It's a great impact that way."
The panelists echoed Knause's sentiments and hope that their message Friday would further strengthen the values that students are learning in their homes and classrooms.
"The hope is that it reinforces the message, and hopefully they'll take it heart. I think the more people they realize are repeating the same message, then the more real it becomes," Bass said. "Hopefully there's a tipping point they get to where they really actually make it their own. Kentrell, myself and the other panelists, our hope is that they'll own it, take it and live it out."
Character Playbook Marketing Manager Rob Roberts believes it's significant for students to hear similar messaging from different perspectives.
"[I've heard] that kids have to hear things, like, 90 times to really internalize it," Roberts said. "Parents are critical, teachers are critical, but to get these other important voices in there really brings the message home for kids."
In addition to the panel discussion, students took part in on-field activities at TCO Stadium. United Way volunteers and Vikings staff members helped guide the young people through a variety of football drills. Each station was tied to a specific Character Playbook theme:
Vertical Jump | Effort
Pass and Catch | Communication
Quick Feet | Focus
40-yard Dash | Determination
Quarterback Challenge | Vision
Obstacle Course | Perseverance
"The Character Playbook events are intended to help kids put the skills that they've learned in the program into action," Roberts said. "Obviously to be here at the Vikings facility is such a special experience for students in Minnesota, and I think it also says a lot about what the Vikings and the United Way in the Greater Twin Cities are all about, which is just connecting with students about important issues like character.
"I think when you remind kids why these things matter, they really stick with them," he added.