When the Seattle Seahawks drafted Justin Forsett in 2008, he knew he had to think and act smart.
“I was a 7th round draft pick, pick number 233,” Forsett says. “I didn’t have a huge signing bonus. It wasn’t promised that I was going to make the team. I tried to live well below my means. I made sure my money stretched. Being on the roster bubble, not knowing if I was going to make it week to week, I definitely had to be cautious on my spending.”
The business acumen that guided Forsett at the beginning of his NFL career has followed him throughout his life. While he was still playing football, he founded the personal care company ShowerPill with two of his college football teammates, Wendell Hunter and Wale Forrester. The company’s flagship product is The Body Wipe - which works as a disposable washcloth to remove sweat, dirt, germs and body odor.
“We’ve now launched into Target nationwide,” he says. “We’re the number one product in our category on Amazon and Amazon Choice. My goal is to be the Gatorade of hygiene. I try to get close to that dream every day.”
The next big play for many NFL athletes after leaving the sport? Entrepreneurship. In 2017, LinkedIn analyzed the profiles of over 3,000 former NFL players. LinkedIn's research found that 31 percent of those retired 20 years or more are business founders or owners. 11 percent of players retired for less than five years are also a founder, president, CEO or in an entrepreneurial role. This is where the Connor Group comes in. While some athletes are wondering what's next for them after leaving the NFL, the specialized accounting firm is hoping to answer their question by offering occupational mentorships to current and former football players. The Connor Group works with over 600 technology, biotechnology and growth companies such as Facebook, Spotify, and Uber.
“We find that businesses and NFL players have an amazing connection,” says Jim Neesen, managing partner at the Connor Group. “The NFL is a $14 billion industry, but there are so many opportunities. We had this vision: how do we bring what we do, which is working with the world's best tech and biotech companies and merge that with players like Quincy Enunwa, Ndamukong Suh and Justin Forsett who are all really passionate about learning about business? Players only have 3.3 years on average. Thinking about their post-NFL transition is critical while they are still in the game."
In the game is where we find New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa. He recently signed a 4-year contract extension with the Jets worth over $30 million through the 2022 season. While Enunwa is excited about resigning with the Jets; he’s also focused on his life after football. Enunwa is currently preparing to go back to school for his MBA.
“This is a limited opportunity that I have,” he says. “I need to figure out, what else am I capable of doing? What else do I love to do? I was still working hard on the football field, but I made sure off the field I had some different goals.”
Enunwa isn't the only athlete eyeing an advanced business degree. Toby Gerhart, former running back for the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars is currently pursuing his MBA at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
"When I finished football, I had a holy cow, what do I do moment," Gerhart says. "I felt the best option would be to go back to business school to get the business fundamentals and foundations some people have that have been working in the industry for a few years."
Marshall Newhouse, offensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers says he began planning for life after the NFL about four years ago. Newhouse is also working with the Connor Group to help him map out his future. Newhouse says he’s most interested in private equity investing and technology.
“It’s a true retirement from one career I’ve devoted so much time and energy to, to a whole new level of responsibility,” he says. “I was lucky enough to start this process mentally at least early on in my career. By no means is it easy. A lot of guys I wish would think about it sooner.”
The transition from football player to businessman has been a challenging one for some athletes. A 2009 study of almost 7,000 retired NFL players from the National Football League Player Care Foundation found that nearly half reported experiencing significant losses in business or financial investments. Paul Stanley, chief executive officer of My Sports Vote says players can boost their financial opportunities after leaving the NFL by focusing on brand building, networking and increasing connections while they are still playing football.
“If they build a big social media brand and a big Rolodex as well, then whenever the day comes they are no longer playing, they have a lot more power behind themselves because their name is known by hundreds of thousands of people on a regular basis,” he says.
Ndamukong Suh is one of those players ahead of the game. While Suh is focused on football, he’s also hard at work exploring his passion for business with real estate projects and venture partnerships. Throughout his career, the Los Angeles Rams free agent has been able to build his brand through endorsement deals with Nike, Subway and Dick's Sporting Goods. Spotrac lists his lifetime career earnings at almost $139 million. This makes him the defensive tackle with the highest NFL player earnings and places him number 12 overall in the league. Suh credits his parents and a network of mentors for helping him stay on the right financial path. He recalls a conversation he had with one of his mentors, Joe Molgia, former chief executive officer of TD Ameritrade.
“After I graduated, he showed me a budget sheet of his own personal assets and what he focused on month to month and on an annual basis,” Suh says. “I took that template and still use that template ten years later for my own budget. I’ve kept those simple principles of updating my budget each and every year. I actually take the off-season when I go overseas on vacation to do that. I had some good guidance and I think young men need that guidance as they come into the league.”
The National Football League is looking to provide that guidance with the NFL Player Engagement initiative. As part of the program, the Bridge to Success Bridge Business Symposium provides current and former players with instruction on career building, networking and an introduction to entrepreneurship and franchising. The NFL Players Association also just completed its fifth year of the NFLPA Externship program. New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa was one of the 41 players that participated in the program. For three weeks, he worked with StubHub in San Francisco.
“This was a real eye-opening opportunity for me,” he says. “I liken myself to an elementary school kid in terms of workplace knowledge. When you’ve been playing football your whole life and you’ve only been focused on football, you don’t really think about anything else. I had my own cubicle. I had my own project. I came out of it really confident and excited for my future.”
As Enunwa looks beyond the end zone to his life after football, the Connor Group is standing on the sidelines, ready to help NFL players secure the tools they will need after they leave the gridiron.
“NFL players have all of the skills to be great entrepreneurs and great CEOs," says Connor Group's Jim Neesen. "They have achieved the highest standard. They conquer fear on a daily basis. They manage amazing pressure. They work so hard with focus, determination, discipline, and teamwork. Those are all of the characteristics of an entrepreneur and a CEO. If we can help, inspire and influence these players to go on to build companies and help the economy, that’s a beautiful thing.”
Linda Bell joined FOX Business Network (FBN) in 2014 as an assignment editor. She is an award-winning writer of business and financial content. You can follow her on Twitter @lindanbell