During football season, people see Brandon Copeland as a 263-pound linebacker for the NY Jets.
What they don’t know is what the 27-year-old does in the offseason.
For the first time in his life, and in a rarity for an active NFL player, Copeland is teaching a class of 30 students at the University of Pennsylvania.
Every Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Copeland works at his offseason job as a co-professor of URBS 140, Inequity and Empowerment, Urban Financial Literacy along with Dr. Brian Peterson, the director of Makku, Penn’s Black Cultural Center.
According to ESPN, Copeland started thinking about teaching two years ago when he was driving around Detroit with two Lions teammates, looking at possible real estate investments. One of his teammates started talking about how he would’ve loved to take a class that walked him through the financial information he knows now, that he wished he knew then.
“The goal for me is to make this information accessible to everyone, some way or some how,” Copeland told ESPN. “And then, long term, hopefully that actually shrinks the wealth gap. So that might sound outrageous, but I don’t care. It’s outrageous to make it to the NFL right?”
The course Copeland teaches, which he nicknamed “Life 101”, was his creation. It was created to give financial information to college students who might not otherwise have it available to them. Copeland talked about how even the people who don’t go to college would get something out of this class.
“I don't care if you're an engineering student, a nursing student, if you're going to build rockets when you grow up or if you're going to sweep floors,” Copeland told ESPN. “You're going to have to use something in this class, and you can't say that for every class at Penn. Every student. Every major.”
Despite his lack of a teaching degree, he is ready and willing to take on the college teaching lifestyle. According to ESPN, Copeland grew up in a middle-class household in Baltimore, attended the prestigious Gilman School primarily on scholarship and worked at a local hedge fund.
In his first year at Penn, he worked at Walmart on the night shifts. He interned at UBS and then worked as a data analyst at Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisers on Wall Street as an NFL offseason job. He opened a real estate company last year. Copeland juggled all of this and the NFL, producing one of the best seasons of his career. For this reason, students listen when he talks about 401Ks and tax rates.
In Copeland’s class, he is not focused on formulas and tactics he learned as an undergrad. He is trying to influence students and teach them proper actions to take in order to secure their first job, buy their first car or home. His students recognize his passion in teaching. They described him as raw and open.
Copeland’s teaching style differs from the typical college professor. He is an active participant throughout his lectures. He gets involved with discussions and conversations. According to ESPN, he even told his students about the time he used a photo of Kim Kardashian as motivation in high school. Copeland was one of them, just a few years ago, so he knows what they are going through and he understands where they are at in life.
“I was kind of shocked how good of a professor he was," sophomore Mark Jackson told ESPN. “I didn't go in with any expectations, but he's a very, very smart guy, and you can tell by listening to him. He knows what he's talking about, and he's obviously willing to learn. He’s not going to say he knows things he doesn’t, but at the same time, he really knows a lot.”
Copeland is aware he isn’t an expert in the field of teaching, and he admits it to the class. But he continues to show engagement in the classroom. He says if he doesn't know something, they’ll research and learn it together. Copeland emphasizes that in finance, the correct decision for one person can be the wrong decision for another.
“The point of this class isn’t for me to tell you how to spend your money,” Copeland told his class, as recounted in an ESPN article. “It’s for you to understand what spending your money is doing for you.”
Logan Huff is a senior journalism major at Arizona State University.