NFL players earn an average of $1.9 million a year, but they are notorious for getting into serious financial trouble after they retire. Now the league is trying to help them handle life beyond the gridiron.
In Baltimore recently, two former NFL stars stood huddled next to each other, looking down at a colorful pair of dress socks—the latest from the Plaxico Burress Collection. Former All-Pro Giant linebacker Carl Banks nodded approval to Burress and marveled at the quality of the socks, something Burress, a Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, said he has perfected after months of testing out samples.
"It's time to expand now," Banks emphasized to Burress, who currently sells his collection in New York City, where he used to play for the Jets.
The two exchanged phone numbers and agreed to be in touch about getting Burress' product in stores catered toward the big and tall, where Banks has significant connections.
The scene? The 2014 NFL Consumer Products Boot Camp where more than 15 past and present players are learning skills they hope will last them long after their playing days.
Banks is a success story for the NFL. The former linebacker who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants has transformed himself off the field into a successful businessman and president of GIII Sports By Carl Banks.
Banks is working with the NFL to help others find success off the field and help NFL players avoid going from millionaire to just another statistic.
In 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that 78 percent of NFL players face bankruptcy or serious financial stress within two years of leaving the league. The NFL disputes this figure, saying that NFL retirees have higher income than men of similar ages in the general population.
"There's only so much room in the broadcasting booth," Banks emphasizes to the group during one of the many sessions, which teach everything from marketing to copyright patent law.
The NFL has long held boot camps (broadcasting always the most popular) but this is the first one focused on consumer products.
"This is one of a number of experiences we do to expose our players to life after playing football," said Kimberly Fields, vice president of player engagement for the NFL. "We want to arm players with the tools and resources to do wonderful things in the community."
The players attending the boot camp come from all backgrounds and levels of business experience.
"I happen to be a player that has no clue what I want to do once I'm done with football, so I thought this program would be beneficial to me," said Torrey Smith, wide receiver for the 2013 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
For other players, the week is about learning the necessary skills to take their products to the next level.
"A few years ago we came up with an idea to come up with a potty training package," said Mike Leach, a 37-year-old long snapper for the Arizona Cardinals. "Now we're trying to get manufacturing and distribution."
Leach, a 14-year veteran, says he has become more serious about his life off the field as his window in the NFL has shortened. He's attending the boot camp with his wife and business partner Julie, who says it has been great networking and is helping to provide them with resources, ideas and knowledge to move forward with their product.
Ten-year NFL veteran Phillip Buchanon has other motivations for being at boot camp. Several years ago, a bad business deal and pressure from friends and family almost put him in financial ruin.
"I had one deal where I lost $1.6 million," he said.
Today, he's hoping to tell his cautionary tale in a book and board game aimed at players coming into wealth quickly.
"I felt like this was a way for me to give back after long nights of dealing with bad business deals," Buchanon said.
He said the boot camp has taught him about marketing and being able to take his products and brand to the next level.
"I think just being here is very encouraging and motivating for me," said Buchanon.