A Brand New Game

Professional athletes spend their lives honing their skills to pit them against others during competition. Strenuous practices, strict diets, and arduous workout regimens are designed to ensure peak performance. Sadly, when the cheering stops and the last tip-off or snap of the ball is completed, many athletes find themselves without the skills needed to survive in the business world.

According to A Study of Players Who Left Professional Football in the 90s, 25.8% of the ex-NFL players polled said they experienced financial problems after retirement. In the 2002 survey, 37.3% said they could maintain their current lifestyle after their playing days. And while the average salary in major sporting leagues with prominent African Americans is still a tidy sum ($4 million in the National Basketball Association, $1.1 million in the National Football League, and $1.9 million for Major League Baseball), the average career span for professional basketball, football, and baseball is a mere 4.5 years, 3.2 years, and under five years, respectively.

A growing number of athletes, however, are finding continued success on a different playing field: entrepreneurship. From the Dallas Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith, whose company licenses his name to Reebok and Starter, to the NFL’s Cris Carter, who, along with his brother and business partner, John, aspires to own a professional sports franchise, BLACK ENTERPRISE will look at this growing trend and what it takes for athletes to score in the world of business.

Business is not a new game for black athletes. Boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson was a renowned entrepreneur who owned a Harlem nightclub in the ’40s and ’50s—a time when many African Americans were prevented from voting. The last 20 years or so have seen an explosion in the number of black sports figures who actively pursue business opportunities. While hard data is scarce, Jay Coakley, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and author of Sport in Society: Issues and Controversies, cites a combination of four events that has given rise to entrepreneurship among athletes.

An increase in salaries that began in the mid-70s led to athletes making more money at a time when people were becoming increasingly aware of investment opportunities.

Increased media coverage of sports provided athletes with greater visibility and name recognition than past athletes. This self-branding can be transferred into business success.

Sports has taken on more of a commercial appeal within the last decade or so as athletes realize their potential as business entities. “The leagues as well as the players are thinking of themselves as professionals in more than just a sports sense,” says Coakley.

Stories about past athletes who made bad investments or went bankrupt have been a lesson to athletes today looking to bolster their business and financial acumen.

While one of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face—access to capital—isn’t as much of an issue for athletes, they, too, have their own set of obstacles. Since professional athletes spend much of their time on the road and are generally not as hands-on as the average entrepreneur, having the right