Love of the game keeps Troy Vincent focused on football and family
He’s the NFL’s monitor of everything on the field, from cleats to officiating
Some people sleep in on Sundays. During the NFL season, Troy Vincent does not have that luxury.
The retired NFL player turned league executive leaves his Northern Virginia home at 3 a.m. and takes an Amtrak train to New York City, home of NFL headquarters. There, he and a team of about 100 men and women monitor everything from the weather to the officials to the players’ uniforms.
Vincent is a man of few words. He monitors the actions of players and officials from the GameDay Mission Control room. Though he’s there with members of the operations strategy team, including former NFL offensive lineman Kevin Boothe, former congressman and offensive tackle Jon Runyan and former defensive end Stephen Bowen, the room is pretty quiet.
“This team covers any and everything that has to do with on-field actions,” said Vincent. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a player, coach, referee, or just game-day personnel, all of that is under our umbrella. This entire department is set up in a way that the No. 1 priority for everyone in this room is the game and how it can be better.”
But on most Sundays, Vincent and his team sit in a room monitoring every game for illegal hits, uniform violations, unsportsmanlike conduct, incorrect calls and more. If his team members see something that can be fixed, they will communicate with a player, equipment manager, coach or referee on what was wrong, how to remedy the situation and why a call was made. Uniform and equipment violations are called in to teams as soon as they are spotted and fines are announced the following Thursday or Friday.
An example of this was when the Detroit Lions played the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 14. NFL officials made two controversial calls on Trey Flowers, a pass rusher for the Lions. Flowers was flagged for illegal use of hands to the face twice during a crucial part of the game. After reviewing the tape, Vincent publicly acknowledged that one of the calls was wrong.
Vincent told The Undefeated that his goal is to educate first; accountability measures follow after the teaching.
When handling fines and suspensions, his team gives players a number of warnings about various violations, but the number of warnings depends on the foul and history of the player. An example is linebacker Vontaze Burfict. In week 4, Burfict was suspended the final 12 games of the season for “repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules.” Burfict has forfeited more than $5 million from fines.
The league also prohibits players from writing messages on their clothing or equipment. If players don’t comply with game and uniform policies, they will likely suffer the consequences. Saints linebacker Demario Davis was recently fined approximately $7,000 for wearing a headband with the words “Man of God” written across it. Jackson appealed the fine, won the case and donated the money to his hometown hospital in Jackson, Mississippi.
“What’s inspiring to me might be offensive to you. People want to watch football, not your personal beliefs,” said Vincent. “You’re giving money away every week when it could be put back into the community, all that is is ego.”
At the end of the season the league has the “My Cause My Cleat” during week 14. Players can wear the custom cleats they chose. Afterward, the cleats are auctioned off and the money is donated to a charity of their choosing.
“The NFL is about uniformity, we think of it as the ultimate team sport, so individualism doesn’t work for us,” said Vincent. “When you start getting into personal messages, where does it end? It may be personal and supportive to you but it might be offensive to someone else.”
Discussing player expression about charitable causes and social justice issues inevitably leads to former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Vincent doesn’t shy away from it.
“We all agree [that] he should have a job; we [football operations] just don’t do the hiring.” Vincent was listed in the collusion lawsuit Kaepernick filed against the NFL. He said he tried to help Kaepernick get a job, but he didn’t take it.
Opportunities arose with both the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. Denver offered Kaepernick a contract in 2016 before he left the 49ers. One year later, the Baltimore Ravens had private deliberations with him, but nothing came of conversations with either team.
For this reason, Vincent would rather discuss the work that the Players Coalition is doing on bail reform, mandatory minimums, stand your ground laws and other social justice initiatives.
Besides overseeing rules and regulations, Vincent focuses on improving the future of football. This includes hiring a diverse set of men and women from the front office to the field.
“We’re not about quotas. We just hire the best men and women. Hiring is intentional. People hire who they know,” he said.
Vincent’s officiating and business strategy teams are both led by women of color — Dawn Aponte and Natara Holloway. Stephanie Durante is in charge of the Game Day Operations Center, which monitors weather, equipment and rule enforcement.
“I truly value Troy’s business acumen and his ability to mobilize his team … it’s refreshing to work with someone who can analyze, plan, and implement strategy, but one who also prioritizes people and community,” said Holloway. “Troy sees the big picture and knows the overall strategy but empowers his team to make decisions while holding them accountable.”
On the field, Vincent is open to seeing women play as well, not just facilitate or referee games.
“If a woman can tackle or throw that rock, give her a uniform,” he said. “I won’t put a glass ceiling on what women can do in the league.” An increasing number of girls are playing high school football. Recently, U.S. women’s national soccer team captain Carli Lloyd, said she received serious offers from various NFL teams to be a kicker.
Vincent is also looking to cultivate the next generation of NFL front-office employees through the league’s various internship programs, and the Strength of HBCUs, Impacting Pro Football Since 1948 — which partners with premier black college athletic conferences — the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Southwestern Athletic Conference, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The partnership honors historically black colleges and universities and their players, and aims to provide career opportunities in the game of football.
“As a woman of color and an HBCU student I felt an amazing amount of support from my coworkers,” said Sissy Farmer, a senior at Hampton who interned with Vincent’s team over the summer. “This opportunity meant a lot to me and served as a jumpstart to my career and future endeavors into the professional sports industry, I loved every second of my internship.”
Besides the NFL’s personnel, the future of the game also depends on the health and safety of the players.
“This game sold violence for decades and now we’re seeing the effects it has on people, we had to make adjustments,” he said. “It’s about making the quality of life for players better, not taking away action from the game.”
A number of players have received head injuries and still play. Some have even committed suicide after suffering from the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The league has been making adjustments, such as developing new equipment and taking extra precautions to ensure safety comes first. The number of head injuries is still fluctuating. Last season, the number of documented concussions dropped 29% compared with the 2017-18 season but this year, preseason concussions were up 44%.
“People think we’re making the game softer; it’s about making the game safer,” said Vincent. “[When I played] I did things I’m not proud of, I was taught it and I celebrated it and no one told me I was wrong, not a player or a coach, and it hurts me to say that most of it was preventable.”
The sport has been and remains one of the focuses of his life. The other focus is his family.
He’s been working with the NFL since 1992, the year he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins. He retired from on-field play after 15 seasons, then went to work with the NFL Players Association and later football operations. Today, Vincent serves as the league’s executive vice president of football operations, the second-highest ranking executive in the league after commissioner Roger Goodell. The Trenton, New Jersey, native has accomplished all of this at the age of 49.
Wayne Mackie, vice president of officiating evaluation and development, describes Vincent fondly as “the man.” Vincent is primarily responsible for maintaining competitive equity and player safety, but there’s so much more, such as overseeing officiating, rule-making, technology compliance, team and college relations, the future of the game, player care and safety, youth and high school football relations, the league’s Way to Play and the NFL’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Recently, Vincent even helped negotiate a contract extension between the league and the NFL Referees Association.
Vincent shared that the violence even made his youngest son, Tanner, apprehensive about playing. While his older brothers are at Towson and Ohio State, this season is Tanner’s inaugural season. He grew up in a time when player safety was becoming more prominent than it had ever been. And while the nature of football is violent, Vincent said, the league is working to be proactive around avoiding player injuries.
“[Tanner] heard all the chatter so we knew he didn’t want to play,” said Vincent. “Having kids changed my perspective of the game. The league has the challenge of preventing the inevitable because in this sport, the inevitable will happen.”
When Vincent does get away from the game, he doesn’t do anything extravagant, he spends all of his time with family. He doesn’t care about sightseeing, traveling or anything else. All he wants to do is watch his children and grandchildren grow.
He’s also an avid advocate against domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. Vincent and his wife Tommi run a charity organization called Love Thy Neighbor.
“When you can pull the resources, relationships and the knowledge you’ve gained and you deposit that back into the community, you make stronger individuals, which makes stronger communities,” said Tommi Vincent. “It’s really important that we don’t walk off into the sunset without allowing people to learn from the wisdom we’ve acquired.”
The entire Vincent family visits shelters to spread the message of leadership over violence. Vincent’s work off the field has led him to winning numerous awards such as the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, NFL Players Association’s Byron “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year Award and Sporting News #1 Good Guy.
“We’re at a place where we’ve created a blueprint for family and a family that has made a legacy, I wouldn’t want to be on this journey with anyone else,” she said.
“I chose this life, the business, the hours, all of it, that’s all me,” Vincent said calmly. “I don’t regret a second of it any day, I’m doing what I love, providing for my family and this is all because of God. What more can I ask for?”
Vincent is most expressive when he’s talking football and his family. He likes to spend his free time with his wife, five children and three grandchildren.