Earl Mitchell and four Dolphins teammates stood in the middle of the largest private real estate development in U.S. history, looked around, and marveled.
The quintet was in New York earlier this month for a three-day post-career internship, and the highlight was the tour of Hudson Yards, the 17 million square-foot redevelopment project in Manhattan’s West Side.
And what made the experience totally unique: their tour guide was their boss, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
Ross’ real estate development outfit, the Related Companies, is the project’s builder.
“We got a chance to go in some of the buildings that weren't quite finished yet, see all the blueprints, hear [Ross] engaging with people, what he was looking for,” Mitchell said. “That was huge. Not that many people get to see something as monumental as that.”
Yet this was no sightseeing trip. Mitchell and his fellow Dolphins -- Reshad Jones, Cameron Wake, James-Michael Johnson and Sam Young -- were on a fact-finding mission.
They wanted to think seriously about how they’ll spend their lives once their playing days are over.
Just two weeks before the start of training camp, Ross invited those five players to Gotham for a three-day business seminar. There, they got a behind-the-scenes look at Ross’ many interests, as well as a tour of the NFL’s main office. It’s the first of what will be an annual -- and possibly biannual -- symposium, open to any Dolphins player with interest.
“We’re always looking to stretch the limits of the opportunities [for players] to maximize their potential, both on and off the field,” said Kaleb Thornhill, the Dolphins’ director of player engagement.
The players were serious about maximizing the experience; it was a commitment of both time and money. Airfare and lodging weren’t provided.
Still, it was money well spent.
At the NFL’s Park Avenue headquarters, the players met with executive Troy Vincent, and heard a presentation from a “legends panel” that included ex-Dolphin Chad Pennington.
Pennington gave tips on how to transition from player to retiree -- an end-game that looms for anyone who ever puts on pads.
But that was just the opening act of their two days with Ross and his diverse portfolio of businesses.
Along with his massive real estate empire and the Dolphins, Ross owns RSE Ventures (a sports and entertainment firm), Relevant Sports (which puts on marquee soccer matches) and the upscale Equinox fitness centers.
Matt Higgins runs the non-Dolphins sports side of Ross’ empire. He spent several hours with the group at RSE’s start-up incubator, where the firm creates companies from scratch.
“The biggest thing that I wanted them to take away is, ‘You have an access at your disposal,’” Higgins said. “For a variety of reasons, people want to be close to pro athletes, and make themselves ability to give advice. You have an opportunity now to reach out to anyone in most any sector to get valuable advice. ... You'd be amazed what happens when you send a simple email, and how those people will take a huge interest in their life.”
Still, it was the time with Ross the five Dolphins valued the most.
Miami players don’t see a ton of their owner throughout the year. Ross’ businesses are in New York, and he spends the bulk of his time there.
But Ross is passionate about the development of his employees, both on and off the field, and so he led several of the meetings himself. They discussed his half-billion-dollar renovation project at the Dolphins’ stadium. They had breakfast. They toured Hudson Yards, which is transforming New York City.
And Ross explained how he turned a $10,000 loan from his mother in 1972 into one of the biggest development companies in the world.
“He definitely said there is a lot of luck,” Young said. “He was very humble about it. Meeting the right people, developing relationships. Hearing the stories is pretty neat.”
Ross is now worth in the neighborhood of $12 billion, Forbes estimates, making him the 80th-richest man on the planet.
He’s certainly a worthy role model for Young, who has an interest in finance and has taken internships with Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. He might go that route after football, but hasn’t made up his mind.
Mitchell, meanwhile, is keeping his options open, but could see himself working for the league someday.
“I've been playing going on seven years,” said Mitchell, a defensive tackle. “I've never had an owner, never been a part of a team that would do that for its players.”