A Brand New Game

For these athletes, entrepreneurship is the next playing field

people in place is essential. “I found early on that the key was to have good people and that my function was going to be to provide proper leadership, at least during the time I was playing football,” says Dave Duerson, president and CEO of Duerson Foods L.L.C. A former safety for the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants, Duerson’s company supplies meat products to Burger King, Hyatt Hotels, White Castle, and Hardee’s. Duerson projects 2002 sales to be approximately $24 million in 2002 and $51 million for 2003.

Another challenge unique to athletes is the stereotype that “dumb jocks” can’t succeed in business. For African Americans, the challenge is two-fold when combined with racial stereotypes. “Being a black man in business is difficult in and of itself,” says Duerson. “Being a black athlete in business is even tougher because I have to disprove this ‘dumb jock syndrome,’ even with a Notre Dame degree. Being African American, we have to be great just to be considered good.”

Athlete-entrepreneurs have several things in common, even while their choices of businesses vary. Generally, they are not earning tens of millions a year and opting for lucrative endorsement deals. As a rule, they are five to six years into their sports careers and have either settled down to start a family or suffered an injury that made them aware of the precarious nature of an athlete’s career.

One of the champions in the cause to increase entrepreneurship among professional athletes is Ryan McNeil, who oversees the Professional Business and Financial Network (PBFN), a 100-member organization of current and retired athletes interested in starting or growing their own businesses. “We take what we’re capable of doing for granted,” says the 10-year cornerback most recently with the San Diego Chargers. “The careers of most professional athletes is so short, by the time we realize exactly what we have and had an opportunity to do, it’s too late. So now is the time to corral some of that earning power and re-apply it to business.” The PBFN’s membership includes players Troy Vincent of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Raghib Ismail and Smith of the Dallas Cowboys.

Although they may not represent the majority, more athletes are planning ahead. “Players are now spreading out socially and learning about networking,” says Carl Banks, a former Pro Bowl linebacker with the New York Giants who continued with the league as director of player development for the New York Jets after retirement. “They know that sports doesn’t last forever.” Banks is currently vice president of licensing for G-III Sports Licensing, the sportswear division of publicly traded G-III Apparel Group Ltd.

So as these athlete-entrepreneurs work on their game, they’re also working to perhaps position themselves to join the ranks of the largest black-owned companies in the U.S.–the BE 100S. Just as today’s athlete is stronger and faster, pushing the limits of the human body, they are also using their tenacity to create thriving enterprises and succeed in the business world. Here are a few

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