Tee It Up Tuesday: The NFL Comes To SXSW V2V

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SXSW V2V day two was off to a bang this afternoon with a panel of three NFL athletes who are actively entrepreneurs speaking about the topic: “Betting on Yourself: An NFL Look at Risk Taking.”  Our team was in the audience and found it to be one of the best panels that they have experienced.  The players were authentic, humble, and insightful.

The panel begins with NFL player Sam Acho sharing his current mantra: 10 will get you 10.  He plays outside linebacker, so he goes after quarterbacks for sacks. This is a contract year for him, so his entire mission is to be the best outside linebacker in the NFL.  His goal is to hit at least 10 sacks because he knows that his career will take off if he can hit that number of sacks.  He believes it is difficult for him to achieve his football goals if he is distracted, so he is solely focused.  In his off season he is focused on getting his MBA and spends his free time giving his time and talents to charities. “I don’t think there is enough time in a contract year in the NFL to focus on anything else,” he says.

Emmanuel Acho, Sam’s younger brother, disagrees and prefers to try and do both.  Along with playing football, he is working on a startup, pursuing his masters degree, and nurturing a successful NFL career.  “Getting off the train (the NFL),  is very difficult to get back on,” he says.  During the football season, he really has time for nothing else outside of football.  In the off season he is working on a startup called Be Neighborly, which is a community building application to connect neighbors.  There is a great debate around some football players because some don’t have options outside of football.  These brilliant guys all had options outside of football.

Ronnie Cameron is on the opposite spectrum from what Sam is going through right now in his contract year.  His NFL future was never as secure, so his entire focus in college was for him to get his MBA and football just kind of happened for him.  His passions have always been beyond the game of football.  He created Bonfire Impact, which is a network for social impact that helps non profit organizations achieve their goals.  “When I played football I spent all day worrying about football, but football didn’t spend all day worrying about me,” he says.  “It finally came to a head where I knew that I had to make a long term decision, so I pulled the band aid off of my football career and jumped into the startup world full time.”  At age 23, he had a contract offer from the Lions and told the coach he was going to pass to focus on his startup.  He ended up saying no to seven teams because he knew it was the brave decision.  The safe decision was to stay and play football because he had been doing it since he was seven years old.

Sam and Emmanuel had a spirited discussion about whether or not trying to juggle numerous things while playing football was a good idea.  “The assumption that I refuse to make is that I will stay healthy,”  Emmanuel says, “I must open up doors because I want to make sure that if I don’t take my team to a Superbowl, I still have options.”  Ronnie said, “I had to have a plan B.”  All three shared the very real stress behind worrying if you are going to be cut every single day.  A lot of people asked Ronnie why he walked away from the NFL, but he was able to keep a lot of doors open because he made a conscious effort to transition his career.  Building your brand while you are actively in the NFL becomes tremendously important because once you leave, a lot of doors can be shut and many opportunities just don’t exist.  According to the ESPN documentary “Broke,” by the time that an NFL player has been out of the league for two years, 78% of those players will be bankrupt, divorced, or depressed.  Sam shared that he believes that this statistic is a flawed business model that must be addressed.  He believes that there is value in finding something else for players to do during the off season. Emmanuel shared, “Yes, it’s great if you are one of the 22% that makes it out of the league happy, married, and financially sound, but it is very important to look out for everyone else on the ship with you.”

Ronnie said, “I think startup and football are truly gambling on yourself.  There are so many parallels between the two worlds.  I think this is why NFL players do well as entrepreneurs.”  Emmanuel said, “To make it in the NFL you have to be a dreamer.  Statistics show that startups probably won’t make it, so in order to believe that yours will, you have to be a dreamer.”  Sam said, “Ultimately what we are all doing is betting on yourself, your idea, your passion.  You are saying there is something that I have that I am going to share with the world.”  Emmanuel said, “You have to be so confident that you have to lose sight of reality.  You have to be that optimistic.”

Sam has a phrase he uses, “Let’s freaking go!” He has been playing since he was a small child and never had any injuries until his season ending injury with a broken leg last season.  It caused him to take a retrospective look at his life and he started Living Hope Ministry trying to build a hospital for the people of Nigeria.  That turmoil and pain brought out his rallying cry of “Let’s freaking go!” He took the rehabilitation time to focus his energy into other passions.  Ronnie said, “Why not chase something great?  What not chase the unknown?  Leave a legacy.”

Emmanuel shares, “In our position we are asked to do all kinds of things, so we have to discern what is worth our time. Time is money.”  Ronnie encouraged, “Chase your passion. It is easy to put your full effort into something that you are passionate about.”  The biggest takeaway from this WOW panel was to put Sam Acho’s “Let’s freaking go” rallying cry into action. This inspiring SXSW V2V panel was a highlight of the entire conference so far.

Make sure you follow these brilliant athletic entrepreneurs on twitter Ronnie CameronEmmanuel Acho, and Sam Acho.