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Detroit Lions Linebacker Devon Kennard Is Thinking Beyond His Playing Career

Devon Kennard knows football won’t last forever, so he’s thinking ahead, using his elevated platform for business and philanthropy.

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Devon Kennard knows football won’t last forever, so he’s thinking ahead.

As a fifth-year veteran in the NFL, Kennard’s philanthropic efforts go back to his college days at USC. Included in those endeavors as a student-athlete was a trip to Haiti following the earthquake, where he and several teammates built five homes.

“I’ve always had a passion for giving back and figuring out what things I need to give back,” Kennard said. “I recognize the platform and unique perspective I have being a professional athlete. I have a perspective kids need to hear because I recognize the importance of having an education and dreams outside of sports.”

Now in his first season with the Detroit Lions, the linebacker extends his work to the Motor City.

Kennard is heavily involved in the local nonprofit Midnight Golf Program. He’s a supporter of the program because he’s a fan of golf as a business tool, but also the program’s mentorship components.

“It’s teaching them how to choose not just where you want to go to college, but which one they can afford and understanding that stuff,” he said. “If I wouldn’t have been on a full scholarship, I really could have used all of this information and guidance.”

Recently, he also started the Reading With DK Challenge, a virtual book club. In the group, he asks his social media followers to read a specific book. Eventually, he’ll ask questions and engage in discussions.

“It’s really to encourage them to read,” he said. “We live in a society where people are stuck on social media, video games and TV. Getting back to books, which is a passion of mine, is something I’ve really tried to do.”

Likewise, during Thanksgiving, he matched with a family from the Midnight Golf Program and provided them a whole Thanksgiving meal and three months of meals into the New Year. They also received tickets to their first Lions game.

READ MORE: Former NFL Star’s Players Philanthropy Fund Is Bigger Than Sports

Kennard is just one example of the growing trend of players working off the field, beyond team-suggested involvement, said Maxx Lepselter, the president of Maxx Branding and Management and Kennard’s off-the-field management. Overall, he specializes in marketing, brand management and endorsements.

“A lot of guys would rather separate things and let agents do what they do best, maximize earnings on the field, then have someone like myself build a brand around each athlete while also diversifying their portfolio across a multitude of fronts,” Lepselter said. “Then there’s someone like myself; that’s where guys are able to elevate their brands.”

Kennard said he has to keep football the main focus during the season, which is when he values having a professional like Lepselter in his corner. Still, he knows the focus can’t solely be on football as there’s a long life after his career.

“You make time for things that matter, and off the field, giving back and making an impact is important to me,” he said. “I don’t take this platform for granted. But to take advantage of it, it takes discipline and time management. And the help around you is essential.”

Along with football and his philanthropic endeavors, Kennard also thinks about money beyond football. He already has a real estate company and invests in a portfolio of properties. Kennard wants to avoid a pitfall he believes many former players struggle with: a passion for anything beyond football — and, even worse, financial issues.

READ MORE: Former NFL Player’s New Political App Aims to Instill Change

“I consider myself a businessman,” he said. “I have a strong interest in business, and after football, I’ll expand that and my philanthropic efforts. I encourage my peers to find other things they’re interested in. Even if they’re not actively involved, just to start to explore and network.

“People will be more willing to talk to an NFL player than an ex-NFL player. They need to think about the doors that might open.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Athletes In Business

Could We See a ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ League?

If “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” made a comeback, the legendary skateboarder would welcome the chance to start a league around it.

Adam White

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Photo via Laureus

Video games changed Tony Hawk’s life. He’ll be the first to admit it.

The numbers prove it too.

From 1999-2015, “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” saw 19 different versions created, bringing in an estimated $1.4 billion in sales, making it one of the most successful video-game brands in history.

During that time, Hawk was able to transition from being a competitive skater to focusing on things outside of the sport that he wanted to accomplish.

“Video games changed my life,” said Hawk at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. “They gave me the resources and the name recognition to be able to go do those things I wanted to do.”

Not only did the success of Pro Skater help propel his career forward, it also helped move the industry forward.

READ MORE: Former NFL Player Andrew Hawkins Is Building a New Career Playbook

Hawk credits the success of the video game to growing awareness around the sport as well as getting more people interested in it.

Although video games have played an important role in taking Hawk from skater to icon, he believes that if the game was just taking off today, it would do even better.

“If we would have first come out on consoles within the last five years or so, the online element would be much, much bigger and would have probably given it more longevity.”

Seeing what has happened in the world of esports in the last few years, Hawk even believes that there would be room for a Pro Skater League, similar to the leagues of other titles like “Overwatch” or even “Madden.” If the game was to ever make a comeback, he would embrace the opportunity to potentially create something that brought people together over the love of the game.

“It would be great. It would be a blast. There’s still hope.”

For now, though, Hawk is focused on “Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam,” his new mobile game he launched just under three months ago.

With an online competition coming in the next update for the app-based game, Hawk is excited about having a more robust online opportunity for the game’s users.

READ MORE: Former NFL Lineman Hopes to Change the Way We Share Music

“It would have been different on the console side. We could have been pushing updates,” he said, talking about the opportunity “Pro Skater” could have had if it was still being produced to this day. “With the app, even though it’s on your phone, we will have the competition mode, which gives it that online element. That’s pretty exciting to me.”

Now 50, Hawk has seen the peaks and valleys of skateboarding, experiencing them all through his own opportunities or his business dealings.

Regardless, he sees a sport that is in a good place thanks to it being established as a hobby, lifestyle, and a pastime.

“It’s in a good place in terms of it being more of a recreational hobby as well as the lifestyle. In the past, the only people that liked skateboarding were the ones who were into it deeply. Now, it’s something that people do just as easily as they play team sports.”

While there might not be a lot of hard evidence to prove it, one can imagine Hawk’s video-game franchise played some sort of role in that evolution. 

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Athletes In Business

Missy Franklin Opens Up About Retirement and Life After Swimming

With more time on her hands upon retirement, the 23-year-old Franklin looks to spend it on philanthropic work and public speaking.

Adam White

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Photo via Laureus

At 23, most people are just entering the beginning years of their career. For Missy Franklin, it was supposed to be the beginning of hers too.

The five-time Olympic gold medalist was set to be the heir-apparent to Michael Phelps after she dominated the 2012 London Games, becoming the first woman to win four golds in a single Olympics in any sport.

It wasn’t meant to be.

In 2015, Franklin began to suffer from intense shoulder pain. Diagnosed with severe chronic tendinitis of the rotator cuff and biceps, Franklin underwent surgery on both of her shoulders in January and February 2017.

The road to recovery didn’t go as planned and Franklin was left with two options: Get another surgery and try to rehab again, or stop swimming altogether. She decided on the latter and retired from swimming in December of last year.

READ MORE: Inside Julianne Viani’s Whirlwind of a Broadcasting Career 

While Franklin was disappointed with the outcome, she knew that it was time for her to take on the next challenges in life, something that she is excited about.

“Philanthropy is going to be a huge branch for me,” said Franklin at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. “I want to do more field work for Laureus; I want to see what different kinds of opportunities pop up.”

One of the opportunities she’s most excited about is being able to do more public speaking. Having been able to speak at a few places while she was swimming, Franklin is planning to take advantage of a schedule that won’t see her in the pool in the middle of January.

“We were in Estonia a couple of weeks ago and I was talking to the Eastern European Coca-Cola team, which I would’ve never been able to do that in the middle of January.”

Unlike other Olympians, Franklin waited to go pro, instead opting to head to the University of California Berkeley in 2013 to swim collegiately. While many observers saw a move that resulted in Franklin missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars, Franklin wasn’t as concerned.

“I’m sure I missed out on more money, but that was never my intention; that’s never why I was swimming. I was so proud to be with the sponsors that I was with. Looking back on my career, I couldn’t have imagined being partnered with better people and better companies. So even though there’s still this idea that if you don’t go pro early, you’re going to be missing out. I feel like I had the best possible experience, even with waiting.”

It was that waiting, along with the help from her agent Mark Urban, that made sure Franklin wasn’t just in a partnership for an Olympic cycle — she was in it for life.

“I always strived to have authentic partnerships and for us, the goal was to find companies who were looking for the same thing. Mark did a great job of helping them realize like this is going to be a lifelong relationship and not just an Olympic year and then. We wanted partners who wanted to work with us because they loved me and what I stood for and hopefully, we felt the same way.”

READ MORE: Immersive Media’s Infancy Creates Industry Opportunities

In hindsight, she points to the fact that she was thrust into the spotlight at an early age as one of the reasons why she was able to navigate the next six years of her life with patience that paid off in these kinds of deals.

“It was really just the basic day-to-day life changes that were so rattling. Just going to the grocery store and being stopped on every aisle to take pictures. It was a lifestyle change. At 17, and going into my senior year of high school, that was just something that was a big adjustment, but one that taught me a lot of responsibility and I’m really grateful for it.”

As to whether she will go back to swimming anytime soon, she seems pretty content on staying out of the pool for a little bit, but that doesn’t mean it will be forever.

“Ask me again in five or 10 years, but right now I I just want to use my time and energy in other areas.”

For now, it’s time to finish school (she’s set to graduate this fall), get married, and find the next thing on her to-do list.

Knowing Franklin, it will probably be something to do with trying to make the world a better place, one smile at a time.

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Athletes In Business

Former NFL Lineman Looks to Change the Way We Share Music

Jason Fox hopes his app EarBuds will help transform how people share music, an inherently social aspect of life that has catching up to do.

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Photo credit: Jason Fox

While warming up prior to a game a few years ago, former NFL lineman Jason Fox noticed Cam Newton nearby with his hood up, dancing.

Fox’s Detroit Lions were set to take on the Carolina Panthers, but the routine stretching let his mind wander to what music Newton was getting into the zone to.

“Almost instantly I was like, ‘Man there are 85,000 people here and millions more who would love to be in his headphones,’” Fox said.

Jump forward several years and Fox is hard at work perfecting his app, EarBuds, to allow for better music sharing — in real time and archived — so fans can listen to what Newton listens to while he warms up or what The Rock listens to while he works out or is on set.

The final catalyst to start the business was in 2016, as Fox was finishing up his football career and watched the Olympics. Swimming great Michael Phelps had an iconic moment where he was listening to music with an apparently angry face as he waited for his event. Millions of people tweeted at him to ask what he was listening to.

READ MORE: Former NFL Player Andrew Hawkins Is Building a New Career Playbook

“People were so curious,” Fox said. “Music is the only medium not shared. Pictures, videos, statuses, friends, work connections all are shared readily on the major social networks. Music has remained incredibly stagnant, which is crazy  because it’s inherently social.”

Initially, Fox was held back from starting the business because he knew it would be difficult and he wondered why no one else had launched a similar service and it seemed too obvious.

Eventually, he went with it.

“I was just the type of guy that sees an opportunity and wants to bet on myself and went for it,” he said.

Fox built the beta version in 2017 and worked out initial kinks. EarBuds was then funded with what Fox called a “pre-seed” round to help iterate a real product. For a year now, EarBuds has brought all aspects of the company in-house and is headquartered in Austin, Texas.

EarBuds lets users broadcast the music being listened to at the moment and lets other users synchronize, but also allows to collaborate, save songs and is provider agnostic. EarBuds already has integrated with Spotify and Apple Music, allowing for cross listening without hiccups. Fox said the goal has never been to be a competitor to providers of music.

The app launched in January and is currently in a slow rollout so the company can solve any major glitches before any potential major wave of users. Fox said he’s preferred the organic step-by-step growth rather than a massive launch. Early on, Fox said the company has received excitement from the streaming services, labels, sports teams, athletes and celebrities, and brands.

There’s already at least one NFL quarterback enjoying the app: Cleveland Browns signal-caller Baker Mayfield.

EarBuds lets you listen in on my world, right along with me,” Mayfield said. “Whether that’s pregame, or when I’m training during the offseason, or even hanging around the house. Snag songs you love for your own playlists.

“Livestream your picks whenever you’re inspired. My music is your music, and you can be the judge. When I’m up on EarBuds, it’s real. It’s real-time. It’s authentically me.”

READ MORE: TranSports Group Shows That Sports Business Can Happen Anywhere

While the initial idea for the product was to allow famous people to share their music with their fans, there was a broader use for the product Fox said wasn’t on the radar to start. The early testing showed people finding a variety of uses, like syncing music on the golf course, during marathons and on the ski slopes.

Sharing music is primarily done through screenshots and YouTube links, Fox said, so he believes his app to be a major disruptor.

“We’ve found so many unique use cases,” he said. “The real opportunities are in peer-to-peer music sharing. This is a way to share in real time, or just like in Instagram, see what people were doing in the past.”

He doesn’t want to spread too much excitement, but Fox shared he has several big-name athlete supporters. When the time comes, the platforms of athletes and celebrities will be important to its success.

“It’s another way for them to connect to their followers,” Fox said. “Listening to what The Rock is listening to on set or Kylie Jenner works out is our biggest ace up our sleeve to spread the word.”

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