The odds keep dropping on Conor McGregor, though it’s more because UFC fans love him than his actual chances of winning a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.”
— Hans Christian Andersen
In a month, the National Football League training camps will open, and I will imagine wide-eyed fans crawling onto the laps of storytellers to hear the old tales animated by new names.
This year, as always, players once deemed too slow, too small or too inexperienced will emerge as too determined to be denied. This year, as always, can’t-miss prospects, winners of what a Connecticut barber once called the genetic lotto, will fail to cash in on their talents. And this year, as always, players and fans hope their season will end with their index fingers in the air, proclaiming to the world, “We’re No. 1.”
This year, curses will be lifted. The chosen will lead their teams toward the promised land. Curses will also endure and fans, spurred by the mouse-click mob of social media, will exile players and teams who disappoint them to Palookaville.
This year, as always, to get ready for some football, fans and the sports media must get ready for the ways the crosscurrents of our roiling society flow through the game. Stark questions will be posed anew: How much will the players, largely African-American, be able to freely express themselves in celebration or in protest? Which transgressions will be shrugged off or punished? Who will be banished from the games? And which prodigals will be welcomed back to the playing fields, just so long as they can play at high levels?
NFL football, the nation’s defining pastime, brutal and unforgiving, is a serious game based upon acquiring turf and defending it with blood, sweat and tears.
And no matter how productive, respected and celebrated they have been, the players are expendable and disposable, just like most other American workers. All of them. All the time. Sid Luckman to Peyton Manning.
The NFL, with its long-term contracts not fully guaranteed, is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, a game where few players control their futures. The games grind the players to dust. And too many players throw what’s left of their spent selves to the wind.
It’s as if they sing lines from “Going Down Slow,” a blues song whose lyrics change depending upon who sings it, though the meaning remains the same. It’s a song of rueful dissipation: I have had my fun if I never get well no more/All of my health is failing/Lord, I’m going down slow.
But none of that matters to those who love the game. The magic moments matter, the great catches, the exhilarating runs and the game-saving tackles. The roar of the adoring crowds matter. And, more than anything, the championships matter.
In each era, star players move through space in signature ways: Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown, Joe Montana and Barry Sanders, Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson. When the players move, the fans ride with them, spiraling through the air as if perched on one of Warren Moon’s pretty passes.
As always, as we look to the opening of training camps, the NFL football world turns on an axis of expectation. Anything can happen.
With a championship to win or defend, players begin each season as potential heroes in a modern fairy tale. But only the Super Bowl winners get to live happily ever after, at least until the next season.
Are you and your index fingers ready?
Every NFL Sunday is a footwear fashion show for Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants wide receiver has shown up and showed out on the field with the freshest cleats in all of football. His secret? Well, it’s not really a secret at all, because OBJ takes much pride in his custom-made creations, for which he entrusts the skill and creativity of Los Angeles-based sneaker artist Troy “Kickasso” Cole, who cranks out masterpieces inspired by every concept fathomable. From album covers to video games and movies to personal tributes, whatever Beckham Jr. dreams up in his imaginative mind, Kickasso can translate onto cleats.
Yet, as a result of the NFL’s enforcement of its strict in-game uniform and equipment policy, most of the kicks in OBJ’s one-of-a-kind collection are worn exclusively during pregame warm-ups before he changes to a more traditional pair for games. But every now and then, Beckham Jr. will risk a fine to ensure that his flashiest shoes find their way onto the field when the game clock starts rolling.
During the 2016 NFL season, the anthology of custom cleats that OBJ unveiled was second to no other player in the league. Throughout the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, he truly became a titan in the sneaker world, which certainly contributed to Nike recently inking the 24-year-old to the biggest shoe deal in NFL history, estimated to be worth more than $29 million over five years.
Hopefully the huge new contract with Nike doesn’t prohibit Beckham Jr. from continuing his tradition come next season. As we anticipate what else OBJ and Kickasso have in store, let’s take a look at their creativity through this definitive, descending-order power ranking of 20 custom cleats they made pop last season.
20. WEEK 10 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS — LSU
Every NFL player deserves to rep his alma mater however he sees fit, but, man, these cleats in the signature purple and gold of Louisiana State University — the school the Giants drafted Beckham Jr. out of in 2014 with the 12th overall pick — are quite hideous. A more appropriate salute to LSU would’ve been cleats featuring detailed illustrations of tigers, the mascot of OBJ’s former school. As for these plaid concoctions — in the words of the illustrious 21st century musical talent scout Randy Darius Jackson, “yeah … that’s gonna be a no for me, dog.”
19. Week 5 vs. green bay packers — Breast cancer awareness
Odell Beckham typically wears two pairs of cleats each game, one for pregame and one for the game. This will be one selection Sunday: pic.twitter.com/RZGMMCbomJ
— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) October 7, 2016
Since 2009, the NFL has been committed to spreading breast cancer awareness. Every season in October, players take pride in wearing the color pink as a display of their dedication to finding a cure. Beckham Jr. didn’t disappoint last October. His breast cancer cleats were a simple but very classy tribute to every woman and family affected by the disease.
18 and 17. week 7 vs. Los angeles rams — Burberry and Rolling Stone
When the Giants traveled to London to face the Los Angeles Rams in October 2016, OBJ channeled his inner European designer by breaking out pregame cleats embossed with the beautiful pattern of British fashion house Burberry (the iconic brand of clothing that Jay Z rapped about swimming in on his 2002 track with his then-future wife Beyoncé, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). These cleats are uber-swaggy, but don’t hold a candle to when Beckham Jr. went full-on designer and commissioned a pair of Supreme x Louis Vuitton customs to be made after the season.
OBJ changed his kicks before kickoff, but remained authentic to the game being played across the pond by switching to red, white and blue cleats, and matching gloves, featuring the legendary logo of the English rock band the Rolling Stones.
16. week 12 vs. cleveland browns — Paint splatter
These are just really fun. Camouflage is always a good look, and the extra splash of color with the rainbow flecks and green and yellow shoestrings set them over the top. Stay tuned for more camo cleats from OBJ.
15. week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys — sept. 11 tribute
The Giants’ 2016 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys happened to fall on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the most infamous days in the history of the United States. Beckham Jr. illustrated his patriotism in the form of U.S. flag-themed cleats with bald eagles on the outer soles of each shoe. OBJ was certainly proud to be an American on the first night of football last season.
14. Week 6 vs. baltimore ravens — “Kirby”
HUGE shout-out to OBJ for throwing it back to our childhoods by paying homage to the one and only Nintendo character Kirby. He unveiled these in the middle of October 2016, taking the NFL’s tradition of wearing pink to advocate for breast cancer awareness and running with it. Beckham Jr. chose a pink character and crafted an entire cleat design around it with the utmost detail, from the warp stars to the Whispy Woods (Kirby’s recurring foe in the video game series). On this NFL Sunday, OBJ represented the video game nerd that resides in every one of us.
13 and 12. week 13 vs. pittsburgh steelers — Make-a-wisH (Dora The EXplorer and The Simpsons)
For one week during the season, the NFL, aka the “No Fun League,” allowed players to wear their in-game cleats however they wanted, outrageous customization and all, without receiving fines in violation of the league’s uniform policy. The #MyCauseMyCleats initiative, which required players to commit to supporting a charitable cause, saw approximately a third of the league (around 500 players) participate. Beckham Jr. chose to represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its website, has a “vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And true to his cause, OBJ depicted the child within himself on two pairs of cleats he had designed. One pair was inspired by Homer and Bart Simpson, two of the main characters of the popular animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The other pair, which he wore during the Week 13 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, featured characters from the educational children’s series Dora the Explorer. Not the league, nor Swiper, could steal these cleats from Beckham Jr.’s feet on #MyCauseMyCleats Sunday. OBJ did it for the kids.
11. WEEK 2 VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — “NOLA BOY”
“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Beckham Jr. has surely come across this legendary James Baldwin quote at least once in his life — or heard a variation of it from his grandma, aunties and uncles, or parents — while on his journey from growing up in Louisiana to becoming an NFL wide receiver in New York. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is OBJ’s hometown, but he also claims New Orleans. So when the Giants faced the Saints early in the 2016 season, Beckham Jr. made his allegiance to the city known with “NOLA BOY” custom cleats in Mardi Gras colors. These are pretty special.
10. week 9 vs. philadelphia eagles — “Salute to service”
On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day, Beckham Jr. honored the nation’s armed forces with camouflage cleats reminiscent of the Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape’s fresh camo print. These are pretty sweet.
9. Week 14 vs. dallas cowboys — 300
— Kickasso (@k_obrand) December 12, 2016
Division matchups in the NFL are always battles. And no one went to war like the Spartans, whose combat skills were epically portrayed in the 2006 film 300. So when the Giants went up against their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, OBJ imagined he was taking the battlefield for Leonidas I, unleashing these SUPER dope 300-inspired red, black and gold cleats.
8. wild-card playoff vs. green bay packers — “grab the cheese”
In January, the Giants journeyed to the land of cheese for a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Before the playoff game, Beckham Jr. countered Green Bay’s cheesehead fans with cheese feet. He donned a pair of yellow cleats that resembled blocks of cheese, with carefully drawn holes and images of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Itchy the Mouse from The Simpsons. Like these two mice, OBJ was after the cheese. Too bad the Giants took that smooth L.
7. week 15 vs. detroit lions — craig sager tribute
Beckham Jr. was fined only once last season for violating the NFL’s uniform and equipment policy with his flashy cleats. The penalty was issued following Week 15, when OBJ played against the Detroit Lions in a pair of multicolored, and multipatterned, cleats honoring longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who died at age 65 three days before the game. Known for his bright and brazen sideline outfits, Sager would’ve loved OBJ’s cleats, which he auctioned off following the game to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation for cancer research. Yet despite Beckham Jr.’s heartfelt gesture, the NFL still slapped him with an $18,000 fine, which didn’t sit too well with the superstar wide receiver.
18k without a single warning , but the world would never kno, they act like it's no big deal. No respect for the message IMO https://t.co/Ym30L1FnCP
— Odell Beckham Jr (@OBJ_3) December 22, 2016
Yet if you asked Beckham Jr., he’d probably tell you that, for Sager, the fine was worth every single penny.
6. WEEK 17 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — KANYE WEST “GRADUATION”
Kanye West dropped out of college and became a 21-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Beckham Jr. never graduated from college, either, deciding to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the NFL, where he is now an All-Pro wide receiver. So the only commencement the two have in common is OBJ’s cleats he had designed after the cover of West’s 2007 album Graduation. On these kicks, the colors morph from an orangish-pink to a drank purple, and illustrations of Kanye’s signature bears are beautifully done. Hot take: Graduation is one of the best, if not the best album of West’s career. Obviously, it’s up there in the ranks for OBJ, too.
5. week 4 vs. Minnesota vikings — OVO
If you didn’t know that Beckham Jr. and Drake are BFFs, you must have been living under a rock like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants for the past year. Last NFL offseason, Beckham Jr. house-sat the hit-making musical artist’s Calabasas, California, mansion, known as the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) estate,” while he was on tour. Drake later shouted out his bro OBJ on his October 2016 track “Fake Love” with the seminal line, Just when s— look out of reach / I reach back like one, three / Like one, three, yeah — a reference to the most revered play of the NFL wide receiver’s young career, which also happens to be arguably the best catch in league history. And even this year, Drake stopped one of his shows to get Beckham Jr., who was in the audience, to sign a fan’s jersey. Yet, before all of these epic chapters of their friendship, OBJ paid tribute to his big homie during the 2016 NFL season with these simply gorgeous October’s Very Own (OVO)-themed cleats. The sky blue base of the shoes, with softly drawn white clouds, is a subtle nod to the cover of Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and the perfect complement to the metallic gold illustrations of Drake’s trademark owl on the outer soles of each shoe. Man, these cleats are a truly a work of art.
4. 2017 Pro Bowl — Toy Story
— Kickasso (@k_obrand) January 27, 2017
OBJ definitely “gotta friend” in Troy Cole, because the artist appropriately known as Kickasso absolutely did his thing with these Toy Story-themed cleats that the wide receiver sported in January’s Pro Bowl. What a beautiful touch to dedicate one shoe solely to Sheriff Woody Pride, and the other to space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Beckham Jr. is surely ready for 2019’s Toy Story 4, and so are we.
3. WEEK 16 VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — GRINCH
There’s only one way to celebrate Christmas on your feet, and that’s with the Grinch. Basketball great Kobe Bryant did it with his signature Nikes in 2010, and Beckham Jr. continued the tradition in custom fashion last holiday season. The vibrant colors and details on these cleats are amazing. We wouldn’t be mad if Beckham Jr. rocked them all season long — they’re that nice to look at. Yo, OBJ, if you’re reading this, next Christmas you gotta go full Home Alone with your kicks. It’d be the perfect way to tell every D-back in the league, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal! … and a Happy New Year.”
2. WEEK 11 VS. CHICAGO BEARS — “BACK TO THE FUTURE”
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 20, 2016
All three films of the Back to the Future trilogy were released before Beckham Jr. was born in 1992. But as we saw last season, OBJ is a young Marty McFly at heart. He and Kickasso put their creative minds together to give the people not one, but two pairs of Back to the Future-inspired cleats, incorporating multiple elements and moments from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. Beckham Jr. wore the first pair during warm-ups before a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears, which included illustrations of the Mattel hoverboard, Marty’s metallic hat and the DeLorean time machine, all featured in the film. These cleats are glorious, but Kickasso saved his best work for what OBJ wore during the game. The wide receiver took the field in a pair of remarkable silver-and-electric blue creations, designed after the self-lacing Nike Mags that debuted in the 1989 film. Nike released the shoes for the first time nearly three decades later, and again in 2016, making OBJ’s Back to the Future cleat idea timely and relevant in the world of sneakers.
1. WEEK 3 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — THE Joker
— Kickasso (@k_obrand) September 25, 2016
— Pro Football HOF (@ProFootballHOF) September 30, 2016
— COACH. #TheHive (@darion_trujillo) October 7, 2016
OBJ has a unique obsession with The Joker, which we’ve seen translated through his on-field apparel in the past few seasons. The wide receiver first made his infatuation known during a December 2015 Monday Night Football game, when he wore cleats and gloves illustrating the comic book supervillain’s chilling face. Last season, however, he took the obsession a huge step further. Everyone knows OBJ and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman aren’t too fond of each other. And, coincidentally, Norman’s favorite superhero is Batman, The Joker’s archnemesis. So, in all his pettiness, Beckham Jr. had two more pairs of Joker cleats made for a 2016 Week 3 matchup with Norman and the Redskins. The pregame pair featured graphic details in bold colors, from The Joker’s eyes on the tongue of each shoe and his stained teeth on each toe, to his tattoos and catchphrases such as Why So Serious?, on the inner and outer soles. The pair he wore during the game were more subtle — mostly white with speckles of lime green around the laces, and red ink circling each shoe to represent The Joker’s blood-stained smile. With 11 catches for 121 yards against Norman and the Redskins, Beckham Jr. became the fastest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 200 career receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So, now, his in-game Joker cleats are displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You know what that means, right? OBJ has a Hall of Fame cleat game.
When retired NFL safety Chris Crocker was at the peak of his career, like many other athletes he signed countless autographs. Many of the autographs were done face to face with fans, while others were signed for dealers who negotiated with fans.
From that experience, Crocker set out to focus on the next chapter of his life: starting a technology company that would connect fans directly with athletes and teams to purchase signed merchandise while allowing players to maintain control of their brands.
In 2014, Crocker hung up his cleats after more than a decade on the field, and now he’s in the beta phase of his new technology company FanFlow, a website and app that will help fans purchase memorabilia online without a dealer acting as a middleman.
“Essentially as an athlete, you’re indirectly an employee of that shop or that memorabilia dealer,” Crocker said. “There’s a huge disconnect between yourself, him or her, and your fan base. I just didn’t like any of it. I just didn’t like the fact that I own my name, and you leverage my name for your monetary gain as a memorabilia dealer. I just thought that was just so wrong. All my colleagues dealt with this, but it was the only way. There was no other way.”
According to Crocker’s business plan, fans will choose the item and the player and customize their message. FanFlow will take it from there. The business is still in its initial phase.
“Choose the athlete you want that has an article you want, and then have that athlete personally inscribe it,” Crocker explained. “Along the way, we video verify it, and we give that to you. That’s really a connect, and the thing that we do with the video, which is an integral part of what we do. We’re able to expand on that video, and that customizes as well. It’s a form of engagement, it’s an experience. It’s really awesome.”
Each athlete’s signature has a specific price point, and they will be paid accordingly. FanFlow will take a percentage of each transaction.
“We not only offer a premium form of authentication; our platform makes it significantly cheaper to acquire memorabilia for consumers because there are no markups in the product, and alternately more profitable for athletes because of the same fact,” Crocker said.
According to Crocker, memorabilia dealers charge higher rates for the same product because they have to pay the athlete to sign and then sell the item to make a profit. “This easily doubles the price,” he said.
FanFlow’s beta phase was launched in 2015 and has only one team on board: FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League. No other teams are under contract in any major sport yet.
“This is for intentional reasons, as we don’t necessarily want to divulge our go-to market strategy,” Crocker said. “Our platform doesn’t depend on having working relationships with sports franchises. We have the option of working with big-box retailers as well. Everyone sells the same merchandise, and FanFlow gives the competitive advantage because of that very same fact.”
Crocker has invested a significant amount of his own money. He says he has attracted outside funding, which he is not yet disclosing. “We are in a seed round of fundraising, and the company valuation has yet TBD,” Crocker added.
Crocker was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. After two years with that club, he spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings. He spoke with The Undefeated about the transition from football, getting his business off the ground and investing in yourself.
How did you become interested in a tech company?
I conceptualized this while I was playing. Before we actually dove into this, it was all about the research and trying to figure out who does it, and who’s in this space, who’s doing what we’re doing, what are some of the similarities. Then trying to sort the company, who could help us build it, because at that time I could never put together a team.
How did you decide on sports memorabilia?
I felt like if I could just create a platform where you could empower the athlete so that he could control it, it really is the right thing to do. It’s about time that the athlete can leverage his own brand, and if someone else is going to sell your likeness, it should come directly from you.
That’s why I wanted to … really create something that, in my opinion, really transcends the relationship between athletes and their fans. Because when you think of memorabilia, it references a point and a time, whether that’s in your life or what you were doing at that particular time.
What’s been the hardest part of the tech journey?
It’s probably just getting people to listen sometimes. I think with any entrepreneur that’s probably the common struggle, that when you think of something, when you want to invent something, you just need people to listen. You need that feedback, because some people are going to say, ‘Hey, it’s a great idea.’ Then some people are going to tell you, ‘No, that’s a terrible idea.’ You’re able to evolve and to really create something great because of not only the good advice but the bad advice.
I would say that’s probably the struggle, just that it’s hard sometimes to get people to listen to you and believe as much as you do in the product you’re trying to build. I think it was hard for people to listen to me because, I’m a former athlete, right? I’ve never been in business for myself, I’ve never done anything like this. They’re looking at me as just, what are you doing? Obviously, I could build this product from the point of view of an athlete, but they’re like, ‘You’ve never been in business for yourself, so how are you going to really create something out of thin air that doesn’t exist and get people to adapt?’
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
The biggest struggle any entrepreneur faces is that you can only infuse so much of your own money into your product.
The best advice I’ve gotten on that front is people would talk about the power of being broke. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was broke, OK, that wasn’t the analogy, but sometimes you’re forced. What that can do is that can force you to make bad decisions. You can go either way, because there’s some entrepreneurs who let that affect them, and they build a product that’s not necessarily applicable to what they’re trying to do because they’re cash-strapped.
Someone once told me, don’t let that affect your decision-making process. You have to be very resilient that when you get to a point in your business where you need more capital, you still have to make sound decisions. I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind as, OK, I need the money but, Chris, make a sound decision. Don’t let that affect your next step. I would say that’s probably the best advice that I received.
During your playing years, were you seriously thinking about your post-NFL career?
I was thinking about tech. I was thinking about everything everybody else was thinking about. Investing in mutual funds, stocks, IPOs, franchises. I was thinking about everything everyone else was thinking about, but my wife [Karrie], we had a conversation one day and I was really hell-bent on doing this, and my wife was kind of on the fence.
It just hit me one day, and I just said to her — it just literally came out of my mouth — ‘Hey, we invest in other people’s businesses, other companies.’ I really felt, I was convicted, I really felt like why don’t we invest in yourself? Let’s take a risk on us. We can do this.
Instead of investing in the mutual funds and all the other stuff that is normal, I said, ‘Let’s just put the money into us and let’s take a risk. Why not? There’s a 50-50 chance it goes up, there’s a 50-50 chance it goes down.’ I put my money on myself. I’d bet on me any day.
What advice would you give to other NFL players or athletes about their post-NFL careers?
I would say, I think the opportunities are there now where they weren’t as much when I was playing. I think the NFL, the NFLPA [National Football League Players Association], they’re doing a much better job of allowing guys to sort of dive into other businesses, whether it’s internships, whether there’s a program for the opportunity programs that they put on.
I would say do as many of those as you can because you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to end up loving, but if you never try them once you’re done, those doors close. Every athlete told me that prior to me retiring: ‘Hey, you have these opportunities in front of you. People are more willing to listen to you now than they will be when you retire.’ I’ve experienced that firsthand.
I would just say, networking is really immersing yourself in other communities. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do other things. Those opportunities could really turn into something else post-career.
You have two daughters (ages 2 and 5). What are you teaching them this early in life?
You really write your own story, and that you get out of it what you put in it. I also say that I do believe in luck, but you have to work really hard to get it. I continuously tell my daughters that there’s no reason why you can’t do that. You have all the opportunities right in front of you.
Entrepreneurship is real; you’re going to succeed and you’re going to fail by your own means. You are literally your own worst enemy as an entrepreneur. That’s the lesson that I teach my daughters. You’re going to get out of it what you put in it. If you don’t work hard, then the only person to blame is yourself.
Was your transition from football difficult?
I think for me, it wasn’t difficult at all. I think it was a little bit of a shock, in my opinion. I still have relationships and I stay close to the game. I’ve been afforded the opportunity where I can still go back to Cincinnati and walk into that building, and there’s no problem.
I’ve seen that I have a lot of colleagues or former teammates who can’t even go back into a building anymore. They treat them like a commodity, and I thought that was very, very sad and very tough to deal with for every athlete. That’s the thing that I think guys struggle with the most. I didn’t deal with it as much, but I did feel the fact that people didn’t respond as much. People weren’t as correspondent. Me being in my post-career, I just felt like athletes experience that, and I experienced it firsthand.
I was fortunate, and I said I’ll attach myself to something, such as officiating, at the time. I was fully immersed in that, but I had to step aside from that because this demanded every ounce of my attention, and you can’t do anything great if you’re not hands-on.
It was like I went from playing to directing to officiating and also from there into this venture. Both of those things, whether it’s officiating or this, it really was sort of, like, it allowed me to be flexible. I think that’s something that really attracted me about entrepreneurship is that, you know you work hard, you get to enjoy that. You’re on your own schedule. You’re your own boss. The ceiling is as high as you want. There’s an endless lot of opportunities.
It’s been good since I retired. It’s been very good. My wife has been great. Our daughters are young, and so we’re all about them. My life is really good. I think I was getting to the point, though, where I was going to be bored. If I wasn’t doing this, I can’t imagine the athlete that doesn’t do anything. He’s just bored.
What would you tell other entrepreneurs?
Chronicle every step so that you have the opportunity to look back. Because, shoot, where we were a year ago, we’re a completely different company. I think sometimes you have an idea as an entrepreneur, but it has to evolve. It may not end up looking like the end product, but you’ll get there some way, somehow. You’ll figure it out.
We were a completely different company from inception to now. Our product is all about the end user, and the end user for us is the athlete. Nothing works without the athlete, and so we had to build a product that we knew the athlete would use. The demand is already there, but you have to make it simplistic, you have to make it easy to process. When it comes to fulfilling these orders, the autograph signing, you have to make all those things simplistic for the athlete where it becomes a part of their schedule.
Last weekend, young Leah Still, daughter of NFL defensive lineman Devon Still, celebrated her 7th birthday. It is also the week leading up to Mother’s Day, and her mother, Channing Smythe, is just like any other single mother who wants the best for her children.
The 28-year-old proud “East Coast Girl” is all about love, motherhood and family, and she is dedicated to helping others like those who have helped her become more than just Leah’s mom.
Smythe has stayed out of the spotlight by choice, with the blessing of her 92-year-old grandmother. “That’s my baby,” Smythe said of her daughter, as she chatted for nearly one hour outside of her Baltimore residence. “As my grandmother watched everything on TV with Leah and her father, she simply told me to remain behind the scenes.”
With Leah now cancer-free for two years, Smythe believes it is time to share her story of raising Leah and her son, Perez, as well as a work-life balance that every mother can relate to.
Smythe and Devon met as students at Howard High School in Wilmington, Delaware, and conceived Leah a few years later. Leah was born a healthy child on May 6, 2010, but at age 4 she started having health problems that were initially thought to be just a stomach virus.
“When Leah was being tested and examined, the doctors said that her ailments could have been one of six or seven different things, with cancer being at the bottom of that list,” Smythe said.
Of course, no parent wants to think of the worst-case scenario, but Leah was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer. As devastating as this news was, Smythe did not have to go far at all to receive a strong support system. Family, friends and even complete strangers showed their love.
The toughest thing for Smythe, though, may have been where to live during Leah’s medical stays that began at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, and on to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“At the time, Devon was playing for the Bengals and he wanted us to move to Cincinnati, but my support was here [in the Philadelphia area],” Smythe explained. “I had no friends or family in Cincinnati. It would have been just me, along with Devon and his wife.”
Smythe also mentioned how difficult it was to work while Leah was in and out of the hospital, on top of being pregnant with Perez.
“I was an assistant director at a day care center at the time, doing a lot of the administrative work, but once Leah’s dad decided to continue playing football I had to be there for my child by taking a lot of sick time. Even now, it’s still difficult to work,” Smythe said.
Smythe endured many experiences during Leah’s battle with cancer, inspiring her to start the Leah Still Foundation.
“It was a challenge to buy food, paying bills and for parking,” Smythe said. “After talking to a hospital social worker to help with those things, I decided to launch the foundation and do for other families I know that may have an even tougher time keeping up with bills than I did.”
She echoed her mission to align with her struggles, as it states on the foundation’s website:
“It is our impassioned desire to be able to enhance the lives of children diagnosed with cancer by providing support and guidance for their families. Our ultimate goal is to be a resource for families to ease some of the burdens caused by having a child with cancer.”
Since launching the foundation in August 2014, the feedback has been tremendous.
“I’ve even had siblings of young cancer patients reach out to us. That’s the most fun, sharing the stories,” Smythe said. “We have served other families by having a couple of food and toy drives. However, we haven’t been able to generate as much funds as we would like, and the marketing, which my mother handles, are also a factor with costs.”
Smythe said the hardest part of her journey was watching Leah change emotionally and physically as she went through the chemotherapy and radiation, and being pregnant with Perez.
“I felt the world was crashing down on me after the diagnosis,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. Dealing with Leah having cancer was much different from a grandparent suffering. I felt helpless because she was so young and I wanted to trade places with her. That said, I had to prepare myself, focus, not stress, and keep my faith.”
Smythe said other mothers dealing with similar struggles often reach out to her for advice.
“I tell other moms to keep pushing, be strong, be there for your child, believe in your faith,” she explained. “Research is also key to prevention when it comes to your child’s diet and intake, and following the doctor’s orders. I tried as much as possible to keep a normal life for Leah by taking her skating, trips to the park, going to the movies and out to eat. She did have to wear a mask at times, though, which prevented normal trips to places like the mall.”
Throughout Leah’s battle, Smythe has remained positive and has been inspired by her daughter.
“Leah always tells me that I’m a good mom and I do a good job. It’s inspiring that she stays strong and smiles through it all and says she’ll bounce back. She’s so smart for her age,” she tearfully explained. “Leah is very protective of her brother, and vice versa. She loves him very much, although she won’t let him play with her toys and says he can be annoying at times.
“SixTwo represents so many important dates and milestones in my children’s lives,” Smythe said. “I’ve been passionate about design since I was a little girl sitting in my bedroom drawing blueprints for clothes, homes, etc. I still have those blueprints around somewhere. I’m looking to relaunch my clothing line by the end of 2017. I tried to launch it previously but just didn’t have the time. Currently, you can go to my website, sixtwointeriors.com, where I specialize in interior decorating and home organization/cleaning and wardrobe styling. I also want to go back to school. I also credit my mom and dad for my work ethic.”
Smythe continued, “I wouldn’t change anything. This journey builds character, maturity, and has made me wiser. I asked, ‘Why me?’ at first, but then I thank God because had this not happened, I wouldn’t have been able to help others.”
Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is lending a helping hand to both veteran and rookie fathers in his latest book, The New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life.
The 36-year-old father of five knows the emotions and anxiety-inducing moments that bringing a new life into the world can create. But not to worry, dads. Watson covers every aspect from conception to delivery, doctor’s appointments and baby showers, and breaks down even the most difficult moments of fatherhood in a way sports fans can appreciate: with football terminology.
“You go from preseason to regular season to playoffs to the Super Bowl, which is the birth, to the postgame, when the baby comes home, and those few weeks afterwards where everybody wants to come by and see the baby,” Watson said. “The preseason is conception into the first trimester, and it kind of goes along like that. It’s encouraging men [to know] they can be good dads, that they have what it takes. The biggest thing that a man wants to know is, do I have what it takes? We need affirmation. Whether they got that from a father figure or not, I will encourage them that they do have what it takes.”
The idea for the book came from Watson’s wife, Kirsten, who encouraged her husband to begin documenting his fatherhood journey in order to help others who may be facing the same obstacles. While talking to other fathers and expectant fathers, Watson learned that many concerns they had aren’t necessarily being addressed, such as female anatomy and pregnancy terms generally used during visits to the obstetrician, as well as their longing to be more involved in the pregnancy process but not knowing exactly how.
“The overwhelming feeling that I have is that a lot of men feel it’s not their place to be involved in certain things because that’s what they’re being told,” Watson said. “And my contention is that you do have a role in pregnancy. You do have a role while the child is here and before the child gets here. You do have a role in creating a relationship with the mother that would most benefit the child when the child gets here because, whether you like it or not, you’re a dad already. The baby just hasn’t come out yet, but you’re already a father. I do feel like many of them want to be involved but don’t quite know how to navigate it. And I also feel like some women don’t feel supported the way they need to be.”
Different chapters of the book are dedicated to what Watson calls the “technical side” of birth, including the three trimesters, the different number of births, and methods of delivery and a list of commonly used terms that fathers will hear throughout the pregnancy. Watson also covers a call to manhood, parenting and fathering, which he believes every man should be able to identify with. The book also includes personal anecdotes and funny tidbits from Watson’s experiences, as well as how to navigate life with a growing family.
Although Watson believes he has a better grasp of marriage and fatherhood now, that wasn’t always the case for the NFL veteran early in his career. He and Kirsten were college sweethearts who met at the University of Georgia and got married in 2005, shortly after his rookie season with the New England Patriots.
“I was a basket case,” Watson said. “There was some other events that happened and some stuff I had to deal with internally with my identity: performance and perfectionism and a lot of those things. I didn’t do a good job of [balancing] early in my marriage or as a father. If I struggled at work, I was hard to be around. If I had a great day, I felt good about myself.”
One day, then-teammate and current ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi offered words of wisdom that Watson still carries with him today.
“One thing that Tedy told me — I didn’t have kids at the time — he said, ‘Benjamin, when you come home, you are daddy, you are husband,’ ” Watson said. “ ‘Whatever happened at work has to stay at work. Whether you had a good day or [Bill] Belichick fussed at you — which happened a lot — you have to leave it at work.’
“That’s what I tried to exercise over this last half of my career. When I get home, that’s who I am. I’m daddy and I’m husband.”
Watson says this concept didn’t really click until his fifth year of marriage, but the process has allowed him to open his eyes and be a better protector and provider for his wife, three daughters and two sons. Now entering his 12th year of marriage and 14th season in the league, Watson is using his experiences and story in hopes of encouraging all fathers on their individual journeys.
“Whether we had two parents or not in the home, we all come from a flawed world, so we’re going to be damaged in certain ways,” Watson said. “The hope of this book is to demonstrate them to know how to be good fathers, but to also point them to a heavenly father that can fill that void that their earthly father sometimes leaves. Our heavenly father, he shows us what love is. He shows us what hope is. He shows us how to be sacrificial in a relationship. He shows us how to care for the mother of our children the way he cares for us.
“This book is for everybody, even more importantly for the guys who didn’t have fathers; they have a tremendous opportunity to change the course. It just takes one.”
A normal day in the life of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick is spent with family, maybe indulging in some golf and during this time of year taking in some NBA playoff games.
“I wake up and I try to handle all my business by 2 o’clock. I’m golfing from 3 to 5, maybe practicing some short game, trying to get better as a golfer,” Vick said. “Then come home and spend time with my kids if I don’t go to pick them up around 3:30, and that night I’m trying to find the best TV show I can find. Right now it’s the playoffs, though.”
He was rooting for the Indiana Pacers, who were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of this postseason.
Vick announced his retirement in February after spending 13 seasons in the NFL, which included times filled with controversy, a prison sentence, a second chance and acts of remorse that involved advocating for animals.
April 30 marked the beginning of the postretirement Vick era. He’s turned his sights to the next chapter: guiding young athletes. Teaming up with the National Playmakers Academy (NPA), he launched the V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series, a premier sports camp in the South and East geared toward young athletes ranging from fifth- to 12th-graders.
The showcase provides an interactive camp setting where the kids will receive a combination of instruction from elite college and professional coaches and athletes, have their performances evaluated by college coaches by livestreaming, access to exclusive V7 gear (Vick’s official clothing line) and competition among elite talent. V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series kicked off its multicity tour Sunday at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Vick’s next chapter represents his road to healing, including forgiving himself after serving 18 months in federal prison following a guilty plea to dogfighting conspiracy on Aug. 27, 2007.
On April 25, 2007, police raided his Virginia property and found several neglected pit bulls and evidence of dogfighting. By Aug. 24, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Vick indefinitely without pay, but later said he’d have to show genuine remorse to get a chance at resuming his NFL career.
Vick, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, made four Pro Bowl appearances over his professional football career. He still holds the record for the most career rushing yards by a quarterback (6,109) and the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season (1,039). The former Virginia Tech standout’s on-the-field career accomplishments include the NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2010) and the collegiate Archie Griffin Award in 1999.
Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick after his release from prison in July 2009, and in August of that year he signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and was fully reinstated in week 6 of the 2009-10 NFL season.
In his dark days, those prison days, Vick said, he did a lot of writing.
“I wrote a lot of people, whether it was prominent people, ambassadors, vice presidents. I was writing everybody,” he said. “I got over like 50,000, 60,000 pieces of mail that came through the prison systems for me. That just goes to show that people did care, and it was people of all different races, all different backgrounds, all different colors, all different denominations, and that’s what kept me uplifted.”
Vick was a target for animal rights activists, and protests followed him in the latter stages of his career. After Vick signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015, head coach Mike Tomlin told Trib Total Media that Vick had made efforts to atone for his past. “Rest assured that he has done a lot since some of the things that he has gone through. His track record to this point speaks for itself,” Tomlin said.
According to MNN.com, “since his release from federal prison in 2009, Vick has worked with the Humane Society to help stop dogfighting, and he helped get the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act passed in Congress. Recently, he made a trip to the Pennsylvania statehouse to support a bill that would give police more authority to rescue pets left in hot cars.”
Vick opened up to The Undefeated about retirement, his showcase series, prison and his journey to forgiveness.
How is retirement for you?
I feel good in retirement. As of right now, I feel like I’ve got enough going on to keep me occupied, and I think postcareer, for a lot of players, you worry about what’s to come or you don’t plan for what’s to come, and I didn’t have a plan. I just kind of followed all my resources and just allowed them to help me dictate what was best for my immediate future following retirement and I’ve got combines, showcases coming up for kids.
Ten different showcases in 10 different states, different cities. I’ve got a clothing line that’s about to emerge and some other things that sparked my interest that I think would be beneficial for my brand long term.
How did you decide on starting your showcase and your clothing line?
Well, I’ve done a lot of camps over the years. And camps, they follow the same format. And I think with a showcase, it gives collegiate coaches the opportunity to come out and view the kids and the kids can get some form of recognition in terms of being recruited by a major, Division I university or a DIII school.
I think every kid can place at some level of college football and I’ve been around those kids, following them. A lot of them now are entering the NFL from working with them in 2010, 2011, and that’s the exciting part about it. I’ve found so many kids who I can influence and who I can help.
In regards to the clothing line, I had my brand with Nike years ago, V7, and V7 did very well. We had five different shoes, we had a clothing line consisting of hats, T-shirts, headbands, and it was just a brand within itself that was taking, and I figure now it’s about the next generation.
A lot of kids follow me. A lot of them admired my style of play and look up to me as a role model, so I figure I’d come with the V7 the next generation and just keep the brand going.
How is your showcase camp different from other traditional football camps?
We’re continuing to help educate the kid moving forward. Some kids are going to be sophomores, some are going to be juniors, some are going to be rising seniors. For the younger guys, the underclassmen, they’ll get an opportunity to come back every year, annually, and as the season goes on, anything that they learn from these combines they can take it and apply in the season while they’re playing.
They can’t get it all, but just a weekend worth of consistent coaching and letting the kids know like this is the proper form, this is the proper technique, this is the attitude that you’ve got to display, competition-based, what your vision has to be as far as your competitiveness. Those are things they can take a long way, and it’s up to them to practice these skills on their own postcombine.
How many children do you expect at each showcase?
It’s going to vary. We’re thinking in places like, cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Texas, we’re looking at 500, 600 kids maybe. I don’t want to overwhelm it. I want to be able to be accessible to all the kids that’s at all the combines, so if registration gets too crazy, we’re going to shut it down. But looking at capping off, always trying to cap off at around 400 kids, which will be a good look.
We want to encourage more the middle-school kids, sixth through eighth grade, to come out and be in attendance. They’re the ones that’s going to be able to learn from the older guys, from the guys that are sophomores, juniors, seniors. Even at a young age you can vicariously learn, and we want to always make that a priority.
You’re beginning the camp at an HBCU, Tennessee State University. How did you decide on the various locations?
We would love to go to black schools, but you’ve got to cater to what’s available and the amount of kids that you can have, and it depends on how many fields that they have. That’ll always dictate where the location will be, but we want to be accessible to a whole diversity of people.
Football players come in all sizes, all colors, all shapes, whether small or big, and we encourage everybody to come out. And it’s going to be a great learning experience, first and foremost, and an opportunity to compete at a high level, which is most important.
It’s all about just turning that page, the next generation of athletes to come, on and off the field and, most importantly, being student-athletes. That’s what’s most important, and that’s probably what I preach more than anything. I believe the classroom is more valuable than sports and I took that seriously, and I think that was the reason why my way was paved for me as time went on.
Looking at your overall journey, what is the difference of what you learned when you first got into the league versus what you know exiting?
Well, I think when you first come into the National Football League, it’s a show-and-prove attitude that you have to have. On the field, you want to show your franchise or the franchise who picked you that you were worthy of the pick, whether it’s the first pick or the 250th pick. It’s all about dedicating yourself and it’s all about honing your skills to be the best that you can be, for the overall franchise and for the city. Because, depending on your position, you have a city on your back.
Throughout the whole process, you don’t really understand what it’s like to be in the NFL as far as the glamour, the limelight, all the splendor that may come along with it that you enjoy and that’s what we dream of, but I think inside of that sometimes we lose sight of the real dream, and that’s trying to win a championship and being the best citizen that you can be outside of football.
We lose sight of that, and at a young age I didn’t accept that. I didn’t want to take that responsibility on. I just wanted to play football and just be a good, honest, genuine person. After I had my situation, which I call it, I went in, I came out a better person. I got with a group of people who really cared about me and cared about my well-being and wanted me to succeed off the field first and on the field secondary.
I thought that was important, and what I learned as I went through those years was that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And if I could do it all over again, if I was the person I am today, I wouldn’t have never went through some of the things I went through. But it made me a complete person, and I’m still growing as the days go on.
I think just the journey within itself helped me to mature to a grown man who is dedicated to family, dedicated still to football, and dedicated to my off-the-field endeavors, whichever they may be.
What stages did you go through to overcome your adversity?
Well, I think just stage 1 was accepting it, knowing that, listen, I screwed up, I made a mistake, and somehow, some way this has to be corrected, but as of right now, I don’t know how I can do it, but I know it’s some challenges ahead that I’m not going to like, but I have to deal with.
Step 2 was living in it and understanding that, listen, I’m in a place where I don’t want to be, it was all self-inflicted and I accept it, and it hurts right now and I’m struggling, but I put my faith in God and not in man.
Step 3 was just the whole belief in the people around me and the whole faith thing that I had. And believing in God centered me around people when I came home that gave me a different vision, a different structure, a different outline on what my life could look like in seven years.
I looked at it and I accepted, and I said, ‘Listen, I’ve pushed through the toughest parts of my life, and maybe there will be parts of my life that will be tougher. I know what I leaned on. I’m accepting the truth and faith,’ and being proactive, making my life a reality in terms of what I wanted, and I did that. And that’s where I’m at to this day, and I stand by it.
What has been the hardest part of your journey?
The hardest part of my journey, I think, is being in prison for 18 months. That’s something that you never envision. I know it’s times where people can visualize moments and put yourself in positions and say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do that. I never want to be in that position.’
I was one of those guys who always straddled the fence and thought about what could possibly be the worst thing that could happen, and prison, I think, was it. And I never expected to be in that situation or wanted to be, and when I found myself in that situation I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this has happened to me,’ but not for a week, not for a month, or a weekend. It was for 18 months.
Were people’s thoughts and opinions of you important?
Yeah, I always cared what people thought about me ever since I stepped into preschool. I was one of the guys who I always wanted to make my teacher proud. I never wanted to disrespect. If it was a teacher and I looked at her and I thought she was nice and kind and I thought she was beautiful and sweet, then I would go out of my way to make sure that she was proud of me.
At what point did you forgive yourself?
I forgave myself once I finished my prison sentence. I think when it was all said and done and it was over with, I forgave myself. I did my time, and then I was ready to walk into a different walk of life.
Who inspires you?
It’s so many people that inspire me. I would have to say so many coaches. Andy Reid inspired me. Mike Tomlin inspired me. Arthur Blank inspired me. My kids inspired me. My wife, family. Man, the list goes on and on.
A lot of people out there who give me so much inspiration. LeBron James inspires me. Kobe Bryant inspires me. Isaiah Thomas, he inspires me after what he went through last week. I get inspiration from so many places that it’s unbelievable. Even Sergio Garcia winning the Masters two weeks ago from all the adversity he went through.
I find inspiration in people and the moments that they have that’s gratifying. I relate to those situations on all levels because I feel like I’ve been there at some point, and that’s where my appreciation for life comes from.
Do you read a lot?
I did a lot of reading when I was in prison. I still read a lot now. I don’t have a lot of time. I read so many books when I was in prison. I think I’ve read enough for 40 years. I swear. That’s all I did. If I wasn’t playing chess — I learned to play dominoes towards the end — so if I wasn’t playing chess, I was reading. I was always thinking. I always had my mind involved in something.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Man. I think the best piece of advice I’ve ever received was just the character of a man and what it exists of. I think some people take that for granted, and I think if kids learned that from a young age this world would be a better place. Character goes a long way, and it’s all dictated on how you present yourself over a certain time span, and that’s what I believe in.
I just thought the character of a man dictates the type of person that you are, how people perceive you, was the best piece of advice that I could get because it fits the mold of me. It may be different for other people.
What do you tell other young men who ask for your advice?
Dream. That’s it. You dream, and that may actually turn into something, but I think you have to have imaginary thoughts of what you want your life to look like, because I know from the age of 10 I knew exactly what I wanted my life to look like. Some things went as planned, some things didn’t, but my life turned out the way I wanted it to be and it looked like what I envisioned when I was young, so dream.
If there’s anything regarding your sports path that you could’ve changed, what would that be?
If it’s anything that I truly would change to this day, because I think I did it all, like when I was younger I was lazy. As I got older, I worked harder. I would say just self-preservation. I would have preserved my body a little bit better. I just had ankle surgery, and it stemmed from a lot of downs, a couple of injuries that I had back in the day. Preserving myself is what I would have did just a tad bit better, but the competitive side of me didn’t allow me to do that when I was young.
What do you tell your babies, your children now about perseverance, growth and maturity?
My son is 14, my oldest daughter is 12 and my youngest daughter is 9. I tell them to dream, and the ultimate character to them is going to be dictated on what they learn every day in this household. How they see their mom and their dad conduct themselves on a daily basis. Being vicarious learners and having goals.
Like two weeks ago, I asked them what they wanted to be, all of them. Give me two things that you want to be or you want to do when you turn of age, 18, 21, finish college, and they all had some good answers and I was satisfied with what they wanted. And I think if they can narrow that focus and just take it serious, I think the sky’s the limit for them all because they’re all smart kids and they’ve all got goals and aspirations — but it starts when you’re young, and I try to instill that in them.
What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?
In five years, I see myself coaching. I’m setting the platform up now to get me geared into coaching and understand what it’s about. I already know I can do it on the highest level because I played on the highest level. It’s just all about information that won’t be redundant, but I’ll have to just be able to do it all over again.
It’ll give me the opportunity to chase a championship. I want to celebrate one more time in my life. I did it when I was young, had success in college. I didn’t win a national championship, but I know what it feels like to have those good moments and those good years, and I just want to feel that feeling again. If it takes coaching to chase that and be able to fulfill that need in my life, then why not give it a shot?
While many sports agents are busy at the 2017 draft, there is one standing out in the crowd. As a woman in a male-dominated world, Tiffany Porter is proving that she can stand strong and give her clients the best representation possible.
For Porter, becoming a sports agent was a natural progression to her multifaceted career. The Hampton University alum has built her credentials over the years as a criminal defense attorney and is managing partner of Porter & Whitner Law Group LLC in Atlanta.
Porter spends many of her days fighting for citizens in the criminal justice system while inspiring single mothers, cancer survivors and families. She’s taken the challenges of her life and turned them into positives. There are few challenges that Porter has not conquered.
As a certified NFL agent, Porter negotiates contracts, but more importantly she strives to protect her clients’ future beyond their playing days. Earning her law degree from Emory University, she is no stranger to beating the odds in the courtroom or in her personal life. She also earned her MBA from Georgia State University.
As a child, she and her younger siblings experienced watching their mother go in and out of federal prison. She was reared by her grandmother and great-grandmother.
Porter was born in Ohio and grew up in Belleville, New Jersey. She quickly became a mother figure for her younger siblings and had to face the responsibility of looking after their best interests. Now she’s a wife and a mother of four children, ages 10, 12, 15 and 18.
A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Porter went through the toughest battle of her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 29.
“It was caught very early, and I opted to take some radical measures,” Porter explained. “I’m very candid about my procedure and everything. I opted to have a double mastectomy, and for me it’s all about my quality of life. I wanted to be here for my children. That was very important for me.”
But life for Porter, 38, kept going. She was a professional cheerleader for the semipro Atlanta Chiefs football team. She began practicing in 2005 and began her own practice in 2009.
Porter spoke with The Undefeated about her journey.
What made you switch your focus to sports?
Well, I won’t say that I necessarily switched to sports. Sports had always been an endgame for me. I was a track and field athlete, and I always wanted to be in the sports arena in some way, form and fashion. I had clients who played in the NFL, played in the NBA, where I handled just their legal business, and I began to see that a lot of them were broke and didn’t have any kind of goals or aspirations after life after football or basketball, and I was like, ‘Well how is your representation? How did that happen? What did your representation look like while you were playing?’ And a lot of them just said, ‘Hey, I had an agent, I had this person, that person that was there while I was playing, but life after can’t even get a person to pick up the phone for me.’
So for me I was like, ‘You know what, I really want to go in and help these guys or these women to really make a brand and to build everything they need to sustain them after their professional careers,’ their professional athletic careers, that is. Because I saw that there was a lack in that, and to help them keep their money and to be able to take care of their families once they were done. So I was like, ‘You know, look, I’m gonna go into this. I have the legal background and the negotiation side with dealing with contracts. Now I can help them navigate into what is it that they want to do. What kinda businesses do they want? What are their aspirations afterward?’ That’s what really made me want to start the sports agency: to really, really help these athletes and to help them envision more than just playing on the field.
How many clients do you have now?
Right now I have one client that is on his way into the NFL. I did have some previous clients; they’re no longer playing right now. You know, it can be an in-and-out thing with the NFL, but I have one client right now who is making his way in, and we’re just waiting for the draft and working minicamp to begin to see where his journey’s going to take him. His name is Kevin Snead. He was attending Carson-Newman, and that’s in Tennessee.
Being a female in a very especially white-male-dominated role, how do you keep your balance?
Well, to keep my balance in this industry you really have to command respect — demand it, rather. The way that I work, being a woman with all these men that are in the industry in the NFL side, all of the GMs and scouts, it’s all men. And then you have all of the agents, most of them are men, so when you come in, you have to really as a woman be able to stand out and make sure that you know your stuff. You have to make sure coming in that you know what your worth is and that you know what is expected. For me, a lot of times I’m mistaken as an aunt or a girlfriend or, ‘Who are you, a family member?’ But for me, I’m like, ‘No, I’m their agent, and this is what we bring to the table.’ I have been at the table and negotiating contracts with the Houston Texans. I had a player that played with the Houston Texans, and the questions I get are not like men would get. You know, I do get, ‘Well, how did you meet him and how did this happen?’ And the how is, how did the black woman get in here and get to this point? But once they see that I’m about business and that I know the game and I know about from a contractual standpoint as to what the players should get, they give me the respect.
I just make sure that at all times I never allow lines to be crossed or blurred as far as being a woman, because there are a lot of men, so they’re going to try you and see what angle they can come at. But I let them know straight up, I am strictly here for business, I am married and as nothing else. It may come out sometimes as cold, but I want people to know me for what I do for the players, not necessarily being, ‘Oh, she’s a cute woman’ or ‘She’s got this and that going on.’ I don’t want that. As far as the players, a lot of the new players coming in, especially African-American males, most of them are raised by African-American single females, and when they see me and meet me and understand what I have to bring to the table, they fall in love with me. My main thing is to connect with their families as well as connect with the players and let them know that I’m there to protect their interest. So when they see someone that looks familiar, looks like Mom, at times that can be an advantage as well.
Is it hard to gain the trust of the family members involved?
It is. But for me, my credentials speak for themselves. A lot of times when I come in they’re like, ‘Well, you’re an attorney as well?’ ‘Yes.’ That establishes a lot of trust right there. They believe, ‘OK, you’re an agent as well an attorney, so we know that you have the legal training to do this.’ Now they want to just understand who the person is, and will you protect my child just like you would protect your own. And they want to know that and see that.
For me when I am being interviewed, I’m also interviewing them, the family as well as the player, ’cause I want to be on the same page and let them know that it’s not all about just the money, money, money. We need to build the brand, and how does that look? And where do we go from here? And how do we create a legacy for the player? And so a lot of agents do not come with that. I tried to bring something different to the table so that we can talk about what needs to happen on the field so that they can prepare for life off the field.
What inspired you to build your own brand?
For me, I would say coming from very humble beginnings I’ve always wanted to have my own business and be a role model for other young ladies. Because I was pretty much raised by my great-grandmother, and my grandmother. My mother was in and out of prison, and my father was killed when I was really young. So I did not grow up in the best of circumstances, but I made the best of what I had. I knew that education was going to be my way out. And with education I knew that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted to do. For me, I wanted to build a brand where I could be that role model for women of all color, but for women who have come out of some of the same struggles that I had. At one point I was a single parent with my four children. I had breast cancer, and how do you come out of all those things and make it work? So that’s for me, building my brand is showing others that through all of this adversity, that you can overcome and do whatever it is that you want to do in life.
Can you recall a memory as a child that just kept you grounded?
She [mother] first went to prison when I was about 6 years old, then went a few times after that, but with my great-grandmother and my grandmother — really my great-grandmother — very early on when I struggled with my mother not being there she was always telling me, ‘You can be anything you want to be. You don’t have to go this route.’ And she was just always very supportive of me. So at 7, I decided, you know what, I want to be on the other side, and yes, at 7 years old I was thinking about this and I was like, ‘I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a lawyer, and I want to help people.’ I looked at it as, well, I want to help people like my mother to not be in prison. I didn’t really understand the full picture of how the justice system worked at the time, but that just catapulted me into what I wanted to do. My great-grandmother was just always behind me and reminding me of: ‘Hey, remember you know you said you want to be a lawyer? This is what you want to do, and this is what you need to do to get there.’
What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Best piece of advice I received was to stay true to myself, to always never compromise my integrity. If I know that something is wrong, or if it’s something that I don’t believe in, to not be involved in it. I can say that has really helped me in just staying grounded, because in the sports and entertainment industry you really can get lost and get caught up. So for me my morals and my standards and where I place myself have sometimes caused me not be able to get the client, but it’s not about that at the end. My integrity is what I stand on and what people look at in the end. So that was the best piece of advice that I received is to always stay true to myself.
What’s the best piece of advice you give to young women?
So my best piece of advice to young women is to set your goals and to stay focused on what it is that you want to do in life, and that nothing is impossible — with the will and determination you can do anything. I believe sometimes young women get caught up into what others are doing, or they may be discouraged because they may have hit some obstacles. I’m always encouraging young women to stay the course and to stay focused on what it is that they want to do in life and to never allow anyone else to thwart their dreams or to allow anyone or anything to come before their dreams.
What’s the best piece of advice you give to your players?
My advice to athletes, especially those just beginning, is to never lose your integrity, and loyalty is a must. You want to have people that are in your corner who are going to be loyal to you, as well as you loyal to them. Because in the end, when all of the glitz and glamour are gone, you need those people in your corner who are going to continue to help you and to support you. The No. 1 thing I believe the athlete should always think about is, ‘How am I going to build a legacy for myself and my family?’ That should always be No. 1, and that can really guide them throughout their professional athletic careers as to also into what they’re going to do after.
What’s the advice you give to single parents?
My advice to single mothers is to never stop. Never stop. Don’t allow your current situation to determine your future. It’s hard, but you use your children as your motivation. Use them to motivate you to do more. And never give up. I know a lot of times when I was a single parent I just wanted to give up and throw in the towel because it was so hard and frustrating. But I always tell my single moms it gets better. No one would have been able to tell me with four children and law school and breast cancer that I would be where I’m at today. I didn’t see that because it was so far away. I always encourage my moms to just stay the course and to never give up.
What’s the best piece of advice you give to other cancer survivors?
And lastly, for breast cancer survivors, my advice would be to stay strong and understand that it’s a process. It’s not the end of the road. Your life is not over; there is life after breast cancer, and it’s what you make of it. And you have to keep a positive attitude during that journey so that your health could be at its best. I believe if you’re sitting around crying and depressed, you can physically make yourself sick or more sick than you are. And really just having a strong … I would say my strong faith in God really helped me through that entire process. So you always have to look to a higher power when going through that kind of trial because it really takes a lot out of you. But just staying strong and knowing that there is life after.
Who’s your support system now, other than your husband?
My family. Pretty much my entire family is in Georgia. My grandmother is still here, and she helps me with the children. I have my brother and my sisters. We all pretty much help each other. But they’re my main support system. My family and of course a few of my close friends.
Do you have any future plans for you, the practice, or your clients?
My future plans are, I plan to write a book. This book will be to inspire other women as well as people who have gone through some of the experiences that I’ve gone through to show them how to navigate just through life, and how you can overcome obstacles. I plan on also doing more motivational speaking where I’m encouraging others who want to come into the business of sports or come into the business of entertainment and show them how that looks. As far as the brand, just going to continue building the agency. We will begin our basketball division this year, so I’m really excited about that. So we will be representing NBA athletes and just continuing expanding my brand as a whole, and being that next big sports agent.
Although April is designated for Sexual Assault Awareness, former NFL cornerback Wade Davis and other current and former athletes, in collaboration with Mic, are making it their mission to ensure that sexual assault awareness and the quest to end it spans beyond one month.
In four moving videos and a personal essay posted to Mic, Davis, WWE star Titus O’Neil, former Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, Atlanta Dream center/forward Elizabeth Williams and Atlanta Dream guard Layshia Clarendon share their very personal stories of how sexual assault has affected their lives in a project called Athletes United.
“My mother was sexually assaulted at 11 years old, and that’s how I was conceived — via rape,” O’Neil said in his video. “And so for me, I’m very passionate about making sure that the same thing that happened to my mother doesn’t happen to other women or young men around the world.”
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), there are 321,500 victims of sexual assault in America each year. Ninety percent of adult rape victims are female, and Americans ages 12 to 34 are at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted or raped.
For years, rape and sexual assault have been tagged as taboo topics. Only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police. Some of the reasons most victims choose not to report sexual assaults are out of fear of retaliation, not wanting to get the perpetrator in trouble and/or fearing the police would not believe them. Only 3 percent of rapists go to jail.
Sexual assault survivors such as Clarendon and Levy’s wife, Desire Vincent, are taking a different approach to the trauma. Sharing their stories is not only therapeutic, but it can also be a tool to let other victims know they are not alone, besides empowering them and encouraging them to tell their story.
“I walked alone in my shame for years,” Clarendon wrote. “I only recently told my girlfriend, and she was the first person I ever shared my story with. That’s a long time to carry something. Something that I should not have felt I had to carry. I am speaking up because I want people to know that it can happen to anyone, that you are not alone and that it was not your fault.”
Read more about Athletes United and the quest to end sexual assault here.