The New York Jets return to training camp today in New Jersey, which marks the end of whatever the team’s players did during the offseason. And one new Jets player spent his offseason planning for life after football.
Josh Martin, who signed with the Jets in November, spent the spring and summer interning at a tech venture capital firm in New York City.
It’s a smart move by a player who recognizes that a professional football career is usually very short. (The average is 3.3 years, according to the NFL.) As Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly told Yahoo Finance last week, “Football is finite.”
Martin, who is originally from Houston, Texas, graduated from Columbia University in 2013, where he was an All-Ivy League first team selection. He spent two successful seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played in 19 games. In 2014, Pro Football Focus assigned Martin its highest grade in the league for special teams and for kickoff coverage. Martin then spent one season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he played two games before getting waived. Last October, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts practice squad before the Jets scooped him up.
Put simply: Martin is a good example of the kind of players who make up the bulk of the NFL—not marquee stars who get to spend their entire career with one team, but journeymen who are used to bouncing around. Martin is realistic about life in the NFL, an acronym jokingly defined by players as “not for long.”
Putting the NFL offseason to good use
During the offseason, Martin tells Yahoo Finance, “You have a lot of free time, and you look for ways to fill that free time through internships or vacations. When it’s time to focus on football during the fall I focus on football, and in the offseason, I try to take advantage of the opportunities available to me.”
At a Columbia alumni event last year, he happened to meet someone from the tech firm ffvc, based in Manhattan, and he took advantage of the opportunity, landing a paid internship. (The firm won’t say how much it paid.) Martin was the first professional athlete to intern with ffvc, which has made early-stage investments in buzzy startups like Earnest, Indiegogo, Plated, Contently, and HowAboutWe, the dating site that sold to Barry Diller’s IAC and is now part of Match Group, which includes Tinder.
“Josh was a major value-add to our firm during his internship,” says ffvc managing director Ryan Armbrust. “He worked closely with our technology team to analyze and organize data on our portfolio companies and within broader industries. Throughout the internship, he also sharpened his coding skills, and got first-hand insight into what it’s like working with early-stage technology companies.”
Professional athletes, both active and retired, have shown great interest in tech investing in the last few years. Derek Jeter and Andre Agassi launched sports content web sites; Tiki Barber launched a talent-promotion app, Thuzio; Stephen Curry took a stake in the private-coaching platform CoachUp, to name just a few examples.
A second career in the tech industry
What is it about tech that so attracts athletes? “There’s just so much opportunity there, once you finish your career, or even during your career,” says Martin. “It’s competitive in nature, but you can be your own boss, there’s low cost of entry, it’s very accessible.”
The ffvc portfolio company that most interested Martin was PebblePost, which uses web traffic to generate physical mailings for advertisements. “I thought that was pretty cool,” he says, “connecting the old world, so to speak, with new technology.”
Very few players plan sufficiently for their “second life” after football while they are still playing football. In fact, 16% of all retired NFL players will at some point file for bankruptcy. Could the league itself do more to help guide players on how to manage their money, and should it? Martin and others say no. “They offer courses, and there’s only so much the NFL can do,” Martin says. One course in which he participated was the NFL’s second-ever Personal Finance Camp in April. “It was extremely useful,” he says.
Luke Kuechly offered an interesting defense of how much the league does do, in fact, to educate players on their finances. Mark Carrier, player engagement director at the Panthers, sits down with the rookies and explains, in Kuechly’s words, “This is what you have, this is how taxes work, this is how you pay your agent, this is what your career possibly could look like… This is what stuff costs. He helps you understand your rent and your utilities and your cable, small stuff you’re not used to paying. They do what they can. But at the end of the day, the guy with the money has to make the decisions.”
Of course, money management is a thorny issue in other professional sports, not just football. Kate Deines, who played on the U.S. women’s national soccer team and retired last year, tells Yahoo Finance, “I feel very lucky because I felt more prepared than some other people that I’ve played with. I knew that this was a reality, and I planned for it and I worked and I had second jobs while I was playing. I think more players need to prepare themselves for this situation. Unfortunately, athletes, in terms of understanding their finances and having a long-term plan, it doesn’t happen very often.”
For Martin, just a few months spent at ffvc will go a long way; it gives him a base of experience to which he can return next offseason, or at the end of his time in the NFL—whenever that may come.