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 John Miley and Matt Marquez/MEDILL

Former NFL quarterback Rick Mirer and current Detroit Lions cornerback Stanley Wilson talk about their experience in the Kellogg program and their own business interests.

NFL players tackle the business world at special Kellogg program

by Matt Marquez and John Miley
March 03, 2009

NFL players know how to crush their opponents with brute strength and blistering speed. Now, thanks to a Northwestern University entrepreneurship program, some players are brushing up their business acumen to squash a different kind of competition.

Sunday marked the Kellogg School of Management’s fourth annual class in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, where past and present players are invited to take part in a four-day business crash course that program founder Professor Steve Rogers called a “mini-MBA.”

“These young men have an enormous amount of capital and access to capital and it is imperative from the NFL’s perspective as well as their union’s perspective to teach them how to properly manage their money,” Rogers said. “Stories about athletes losing their money are not in the best interest of the league because it damages the brand.”

The current squad of 19 athletes in the program includes Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn, New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson, Detroit Lions cornerback Stanley Wilson and former Chicago Bears quarterback Rick Mirer. Their classes focus on developing knowledge and skills in investing, business leadership and venture capital.

“I look at someone like Magic Johnson who has kind of taken his opportunity and ran with it,” said Wilson, a third-round draft pick out of Stanford University.

Wilson said he has already started his own business that allows users to share doctor references online with uploaded videos.

“I’ve been trying to find ways to market that and have it grow,” he said.

Athletes’ playing days rarely last even a decade and it's important for them to plan for other careers, said Rick Mirer, a 1993 Rookie of the Year who last suited up for the Detroit Lions.

Mirer said it’s been a long time since he graduated from Notre Dame in 1992, and the entrepreneurship class gives him the opportunity to polish his marketing skills and develop his plans to run a vineyard.

“There’s a lot to learn,” he said.

The median salary for NFL athletes last year was about $930,000, according to data from USA Today – far beyond what most people earn. And finding capital is one of the greatest challenges for entrepreneurs during this recession, said Ellen Rudnick, professor and executive director of the Michael P. Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“A lot of businesses are suffering because they’re not getting credit lines with banks,” Rudnick said.

But if people can get enough capital, opportunities exist because struggling businesses can be bought up relatively cheaply, Rudnick said, adding that expected investments by the Obama Administration into health care, infrastructure development, education and clean energy technology can also lead to new business opportunities.

“You go where the money is,” she said.

And Wilson doesn’t have to be told twice that the recession means more business prospects for those with the resources.

“There’s a lot of opportunities out there. You just have to find them.”