KENWOOD — Ariel Community Academy students got a rare treat on Thursday: a visit from prospective pro football players and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The players and officials were at the school at 1119 E. 46th St. to help launch a new school program, Character Playbook, sponsored by the NFL and the United Way.
“It’s one of the most exciting things we’ve ever participated in because it teaches us how to respond to all of the interpersonal relationships we have every day,” said Judith Shelton, the curriculum director at the school.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and new 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King joined Goodell and players to watch kids work through the program, which displays like a comic book on the computer screen and the students help navigate the characters through tense social situations.
Teachers said they’ve been trying the program out and it seems so far like the kids are responding well to and getting really engaged.
After meeting 10 prospective draft picks for the NFL, the students went down to the school’s auditorium to hear them explain how they were preparing for the far tenser environment of becoming a pro football player.
“They know what discipline is, they know what it means to work hard, they know what teamwork is,” Goodell said.
The players, all participating in the NFL draft Downtown later Thursday, said they understood it was a whole new world they were walking into where everything they say could be closely scrutinized.
“It’s really just about how you handle yourself and represent yourself, your family and where you’re from,” said Carson Wentz, a quarterback from North Dakota State who is expected to be picked by the Los Angeles Rams or Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the draft.
Former Bears players were also there to warn students and the incoming players about the power of social media and how one represents themselves online.
“It can be a double-edged sword sometimes, you can control the narrative in positive ways or control it in a way that makes it even worse,” said Rashied Davis, a former wide receiver for the Bears. “If you go out and tweet in anger, it’s going to get you in a lot of trouble.”
With the pressure on for the draft, the hour with students seemed to be a welcome respite, possibly for some of the officials, too.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel joked it was like having the draft early and took pictures with students before leaving without taking questions from the media.
George McCaskey, chairman of the board of directors for the Bears, lingered a little longer, playing rock-paper-scissors with students and playfully teasing them when they lost.
By far the biggest hit as far as the students were concerned was Bears mascot Staley Da Bear, who ran up and down the aisles shoving kids hats into his mouth, posing and climbing up on the stage to goof off to the cheers of the students.
Carson Wentz, a quaterback who is expected to be picked up in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, was among the players to visit Ariel.
Some of the top picks for the NFL draft told students how good social skills only become more important as you approach heights like being a pro football player.
Staley Da Bear was by far the person Ariel students were most excited to meet on Thursday.