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Gridiron Graduate

Thursday, March 22, 2018

It’s 2:30 a.m. in Detroit, a few hours after the Steelers have handed Lions fans a heartbreaker, stopping their offense five times inside the red zone and leaving Ford Field with a 20-15 victory. Charlie Batch, who led both teams’ offenses during his 15-year career as an NFL quarterback, has spent the last several hours explaining to a radio audience what Pittsburgh got right and Detroit got wrong.

Finally, that’s finished. The lights go out and the microphones grow quiet. But Batch’s night isn’t over. He still has homework.

Eight months earlier, in March, Batch began RMU’s 10-month online course to earn a master’s degree in organizational leadership. Now, a few days after the Detroit game, he has started his two final classes. “I’m too close to the finish line to press the pause button right now,” he says.

His path back into the classroom 20 years after earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Eastern Michigan University isn’t what you’d call traditional. It’s not like the man’s resume needed to be polished. During Batch’s NFL years, he won two Super Bowl championships and served as vice president of the executive committee of the National Football League Players Association, the organization that represents players in collective bargaining agreements. He was a player advisor for a Harvard University study of football players’ health, a regular guest on more than 20 radio and television shows, the host of two shows that bore his name, and a professional speaker booked by some of the country’s largest corporations and universities.

Away from football, he founded the Best of the Batch Foundation in 1999, when he was in his mid-20s. The foundation spends several hundred thousand dollars a year on community development, after-school programs, reading and computer literacy programs, and scholarships in and around his hometown of Homestead.

Now living in Franklin Park, Batch co-founded Impellia, a sports medicine startup that helps bring universitydeveloped technologies to market, about three years ago. The National Speakers Association added him to its stable of professional speakers. And he’s senior captain for The Trust, an organization created by the players association to help retiring football players make the transition into their postNFL lives.

Along the way, he has amassed enough community service and entrepreneurship awards — not to mention honorary degrees — to fill a trophy room. Or, rather, to almost fill a trophy room. There is one space reserved for something else.

“Completing my master’s degree was something I always wanted to do,” Batch says. He often gives talks about leadership, and a graduate degree in the field would bolster his credentials and look good on the PowerPoint, he says. His wife, Natasha Wilson-Batch, who is the executive director of the Best of the Batch Foundation and also a motivational speaker, has two master’s degrees and encouraged him to get one for himself.

Batch checked into programs around the region, looking for something he could mold around the long list of commitments he’d already made, and decided RMU’s program fit his needs. But it took a personal challenge from President Chris Howard to finally make him commit. The two men were discussing the courseload and Batch’s goals. Then Howard said the time for talk was over. “It’s time,” Howard told him, Batch recalls. “What are you going to do? Because I don’t want to see you in another couple of months and hear you tell me that you didn’t start it.”

“I took that personally,” Batch says. “You’re really challenging me? That’s the move?”

Classes began in March. Batch frontloaded his coursework to get as much out of the way as possible before football season, when he would have to go back on the road with the Steelers for television and radio shows. The classes’ structure offered him a way to incorporate what he’d learned during the last 20 years into RMU’s lessons, he said. “When I write or lead a discussion, I’m basing it off of experience.” He set aside four- and five-hour blocks some days to get through the required reading. And then football season returned.

That meant more nights like the one in Detroit. After wrapping up his radio show, Batch had to finish an assignment due the next day. His schedule wouldn’t get any easier from there — four of the next five games were also nighttime kickoffs. But the leaves were turning. The degree he’d been chasing was in sight. December 16 would be his last day of classes, he told an interviewer while on another road trip. “Not that I’m counting or anything.”

Written by Mike Wereschagin