Former Washington guard Ray Brown is clear that he will be adopting a "give-it-to-them-straight" mentorship approach when it comes to his involvement in the 2023 rookie-alumni program.
"I'm just gonna make myself available," Brown said. "If they wanna know, I'll tell them. If they don't wanna know, hell, I might even tell them anyway. Because for me personally, I can see myself in these guys."
The relatability between the new guys and the Washington Legends is one of the key experiences that the rookie-alumni program will be looking to tap into in a more impactful, consistent way in 2023.
Unlike previous iterations of this initiative, pairs of rookies and Legends will be established, and there will be multiple touchpoints for the pairings to connect throughout the year. This elevated version of the program will offer important support to rookies, help teach this new crop about the team's rich legacy, leverage Legend wisdom and more.
The rookie-alumni program sprouted from the powerful concept of mentorship. There has long been a sense that guys coming up could benefit from the wisdom of those who have been on the path they are about to walk. Only just recently have programs been established across the league to meet this unmet need.
"Back when I was coming up, which was two lifetimes ago, we didn't have anything like this to kind of give you an idea of what you were going to be facing," said Super Bowl champion Mark Moseley, who is a part of this year's program for Washington. "I think it's very smart."
That sentiment was echoed by several alumni who arrived at Commanders Park on Wednesday for the kickoff of this year's program.
"I think it's an opportunity for the rookies to learn from our mistakes and help them avoid a pothole, a bump in the road," said Washington Legend Clinton Portis. "I think it's great for those guys to be able to have a mentor, to be able to have someone to talk to, to be able to have someone who has been through it."
A host of benefits will no doubt flow from the practical wisdom these older men will pass down about topics including finances, the retirement transition and starting a family. In another perk of the program, rookies will gain education around Washington's history and pedigree.
Through community building with players who spent years in Washington, won Super Bowls for the Burgundy & Gold and more, the rookies will learn about traditions and the championship culture that was cultivated in some of Washington's greatest-ever teams.
"I think it's very important that these rookies hear of the experiences from the guys who came before them and understand who we are, what we're trying to become, what we were and where we're going," said Washington's Senior Director of Player Development Malcolm Blacken.
Blacken and the alumni relations team, led by Tim Hightower, saw building out the rookie-alumni program as a meaningful piece of the project the franchise has been engaging in to make improvements on and off the field. Ideas for a re-imagined program began in earnest towards the end of last year.
"Following last year's alumni dinner with rookies, I received positive feedback from alumni and rookies. They wanted more opportunities to engage with each other," Director of Alumni Relations Tim Hightower explained. "We have a large base of former players who really care about this organization and want to see it succeed. They wanted to extend their support to rookies and the organization. I kept asking the question, 'How can we get them more involved?'"
Check out the best photos of the Washington Commanders as they went through their OTA practice earlier today. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
Support and a unique kind of understanding from the most senior leaders of the Commanders was significant in ensuring new elements could be incorporated in 2023.
"It helps having former players as our head coach, GM and President," Hightower explained. "Jason Wright and Martin Mayhew get it. They understand the value of having a strong alumni base and mentorship for our young players."
Nurturing this base that can offer mentorship is just as much about lifting up past generations as it is about amplifying this current team. For all Washington Legends have given to the Burgundy & Gold and this fanbase, they deserve to be honored at every turn. Their stories are worthy of being passed down. Their wisdom should not be left behind. This program aims to keep centering those facts.
For the alumni, the rookies and the franchise as a whole, the 2023 rookie-alumni program will establish a standard for celebration, mentorship and education that is set to positively influence players of all eras for years to come.
"We want our Legends and our current players to feel like they have a brotherhood no matter where they are and to feel that they are forever part of the Burgundy & Gold family" Hightower said.