"You're on the same team": NFL players share valuable lesson on Capitol Hill

Two players prepare for life after the NFL

Our series, A More Perfect Union, aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far stronger than what divides us. In this installment, we introduce you to two NFL players who are taking part in an externship program that's designed to help them find work after their playing days are over. 


Forty-one NFL players have chosen to spend part of their off-season doing what they call externships, CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports. They work for three weeks at places like Under Armour and the United Way. A few of them have come to Congress where they're learning to tackle the partisan divide. 

Like many offensive linemen, Los Angeles Chargers' Cole Toner and Kansas City Chiefs' Bryan Witzmann start their day at the gym. But from there, they hit Capitol Hill, swapping out their jerseys for suits. 

"I answer calls, we send out emails to the constituents," Witzmann said. "It's traded one playbook for the intern playbook." 

Witzmann works for Illinois Congresswoman Robin Kelly, who is a Democrat. 

"He's been doing great," Kelly told Cordes. "We don't want him to leave. We have a superstar in the office." 

Toner was assigned to Republican Senator Todd Young, of Indiana. 

"I hit the ground running right away," Toner said. "I've also been writing some decision memos for him, which is fantastic. I've always kind of had some interest in public policy and fiscal policy and econ and that kind of stuff. So I think it might be something I'd get into someday."

"They're legible, they're thoughtful, and persuasive." Young interjected. "I think he's -- he has so many other options, Cole does. But he chose to come here. And I hope it inspires others." 

At 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-5 tall, the two are hard to miss. Witzmann played for South Dakota State University before going professional. Toner is a Harvard graduate from Indiana. They had never met. But now, they're roommates and friends whose political views diverge.  

"We hang out every night," Toner said. "Go eat dinner, play some video games, do what teammates do. So, I mean, I don't really think of him as across the aisle." 

"He's convicted in his views, but he's very reasonable," Witzmann added. "When we debate on things, it's always about improving our knowledge on stuff." 

0302-ctm-mpunflexterns-cordes-1512886-640x360.jpg
Cole Toner (left) and Bryan Witzmann (right) CBS News 

They take the same view on the decision by some of their NFL colleagues to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of what some saw as unfair treatment of African-Americans at the hands of police. President Trump and some fans called it "disrespectful." 

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, 'Get that son-of-a-b**** off the field right now. Out! He's Fired," Mr. Trump said at a rally last fall. 

Neither Toner nor Witzmann took a knee, but say they respect those who did. 

"I think it was, for the most part, guys were very supportive of one another," Toner said. "And I think that, in my opinion, most guys think that if you wanted to do that it was within your rights." 

They've both found Washington, D.C., isn't as divided as it seems. 

"There's tons of bills and resolutions every day that I've actually been researching that have a lot of bipartisan support," Toner explained. 

"I wouldn't think of a Republican or a Democrat being on the other side as an opponent. I almost think of it as, 'You're on the same team,'" Witzmann added. "Ultimately, at the end of the day, they have to come together for the team to progress and for it to win." 

The average NFL career only lasts about three years, which is part of the reason the NFL Player's Association started the externship program five years ago.   

Toner and Witzmann's externships end Friday. And while they've learned a lot, they've taught a little, too.