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

With his Players Philanthropy Fund, former Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover is making the most of his career off the field.

Blake Yagman

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Former Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover has committed to giving back to other athletes so that they have a chance to meaningfully contribute to their communities through their own creative philanthropic goals.

Think of the old saying, “a candle loses nothing by lighting another flame.”

Stover, a former NFL all-pro, started a Baltimore-based non-profit called the Players Philanthropy Fund with his partners Seth McDonnell and Emil Kallina. PPF is a tax-exempt entity that acts as a fiduciary so as to enable organizations to engage in philanthropy without the fiscal, legal and operational burden of starting a new standalone entity.

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PPF currently works with more than 65 different charitable organizations across the country – including the Ed Reed Foundation and DeAndre Jordan’s Treehouse Giving organization. It also supports organizations that increase resources for mental health issues, education concerns, pediatric cancer, military/veteran and first-responder assistance, homelessness and starvation.

“The mission of the Players Philanthropy Fund is to educate, facilitate and inspire best-practice-based philanthropy,” Stover said. “Every day, PPF’s goal is to empower athletes, celebrities and other individuals by providing financial and administrative support to their charitable organization, freeing them to focus on achieving the maximum impact possible for their charity or community.”

Stover’s concept is a unique one, essentially acting as the financial architect in helping individuals and organizations build structurally sound and compliant charities.

“There are three reasons why I founded [PPF],” he said. “First, I knew that I wanted to live a life of significance following my professional football career. I also knew that I wanted to continue on my personal journey of giving back for the greater good. In addition, I wanted to take the lessons that I learned to help others in their philanthropic and financial journeys.”

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With respect to the nuts and bolts of his fund, Stover emphasizes simplicity.

“My PPF co-founders [and I] knew that if we could develop a way to remove much of the complexity and confusion that athletes, celebrities and others’ experience in developing a charity, we’d see higher participation in giving. With that in mind, we developed three operating platforms that can be chosen: ‘The Donor Advised Fund,’ ‘Fiscal Sponsorship’ and ‘Private Operating Platforms.’”

Each of these platforms has its own unique financial and administrative benefits. So, what are a few things an athlete should be cognizant of when launching a charity?

According to Stover:

  • Brand – How will launching a charitable organization help the individual realize his or her short- and long-term personal brand goals? Does the person have the team in place to ensure the charities’ brand and messaging are strong and executed consistently and effectively?
  • Differentiation – How will the mission of this organization be different from other similar organizations in its space? How will this charity improve, change or innovate the charitable landscape?
  • Timing – Is this the right time for a person to take on the responsibility of being the face of a charitable organization? Additionally, will this person have the time required to make the organization successful?
  • Financial requirements – Does this person fully understand the financial requirements of operating a charitable organization? Does the person have a team and processes in place to ensure the charities long-term success?

PPF’s popularity, due in part to the brilliant concept that Stover came up with, is also supported through the use of strategic partnerships.

“Developing a successful charitable organization goes far beyond being financially compliant,” he said. “We know, through our own experience at PPF, that developing a successful charitable organization also requires creating an effective brand and having the infrastructure in place to consistently build upon that brand.”

A member of the Ravens’ Ring of Honor, Stover has paved a path that every person —not just athletes — should applaud: a post-playing career that uses his or her platform for good.

Blake, a recent law school graduate, lives in New York City. Blake attended undergrad at the University of Miami where he worked for Hurricanes football, WVUM and student government. Blake writes about legal issues related to the sports industry for Front Office Sports.

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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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