Second-gig economy: Even NFL players make (tight) ends meet with side hustles

Second-gig economy: Even NFL players make (tight) ends meet with side hustles

One in three Americans has a side hustle and another 24 percent plan to start one this year, according to a Zapier-commissioned Harris Poll survey. Some of those multitaskers also have a day — and Monday night — job in the NFL. That’s right, a growing number of pigskin pros are joining the family business, becoming product pitchmen with a stake in the company, dusting off their college degrees, starting a venture with a friend, or turning hobbies into retirement plans. One player even went from running interference to running people to the airport as an Uber driver in the offseason.  

It’s a smart play for guys in a field where the average career length is only 3.3 years and an injury can sideline them forever in an instant. And let’s face it, not everyone’s making that Mahomes money. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting positions athletes have had.

Remember The Sprinkles, Titans

A couple of years before retiring from the Tennessee Titans, linebacker Brian Orakpo joined forces with his former teammate and fellow sweet tooth, safety Michael Griffin, and their mutual friend Bryan Hynson to open a Gigi’s Cupcakes franchise near Austin, Texas, where all three had gone to college.

The Cupcake Guys take baking, and the business, seriously and are often seen at the shop frosting their wares and running the register. 

“It’s harder than playing football,” Griffintold ESPN noting that his wife figured she saw him more when he was playing than after he became a businessman. “Being professional athletes, we’re spoiled. It was definitely an awakening.”

Orakpo has since invested in a second business, Restore, a provider of wellness treatments like cryotherapy, compression, and infrared saunas.

Sports Medicine

The coronavirus pandemic has changed all of our lives in ways we never expected. For right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, it meant going from the victorious offensive line at Super Bowl LIV to the front line at a long-term care facility in his native Quebec two months later. Before being drafted, he’d earned a doctorate in medicine but hadn’t completed the residency program. As the situation worsened, the Canadian health ministry relaxed the licensing requirements and sought reinforcements from anyone with medical schooling/training. He found himself answering the call with the Chiefs’ support.

Long Drives

While playing for the Miami Dolphins and making more than $318,000 a year, defensive tackle A.J. Francis spent the offseason moonlighting as an Uber driver. In an interview with ESPN, the five-star rated wheelman explained that he didn’t receive paychecks between January and July, but figured it couldn’t hurt to have a rainy-day fund instead of relying on savings.

“Instead of spending money I made last year, I’m making it another way. I’m out here trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents.” He added in another interview with ESPN, “I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket,” Francis said. “Where I’m from, when you have a job, [it’s] where are you when that job is over?”

The Longest Card

Outside linebacker Cassius Marsh is a lifelong fan of “Magic: The Gathering “and “Pokémon,” and as such spent good portions of paychecks he earned with the Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, and, most recently, the Pittsburgh Steelers to amass a personal collection of cards and collectibles worth $250,000. In early 2021, he geeked out even further opening Cash Cards Unlimited in his hometown of Westlake Village, Calif., which coincided with a pandemic-related upswing in the card market. Fellow enthusiasts now have a place to buy, sell and trade card games and sports trading cards as well as come together for tournaments and unboxings.

“I turned my passion into a side hustle,” Marsh told the Bellevue Reporter. “Now it developed into a full-blown business.” 

All The Right Mooooo-ves

Despite playing in the league for 10 seasons with the Green Bay Packers and Raiders, wide receiver Jordy Nelson’s ego was never too big to head home to tiny Riley, Kan., and put in 12-hour days on his family farm. During the offseason, he’d drive the wheat-cutting combine and round up the 1,000-cow herd.

“Working cattle is my favorite farm duty,” Nelson told ESPN. Returning to his roots also helped him when it was time to return to his other field goals. “Honestly, it’s great for me physically,” Nelson said in an interview with “It’s hotter in Kansas so it makes camp easy. It resets me mentally.”

V-art-sity Blues

A year after Super Bowl L, champ and tight end Vernon Davis, who co-led the NFL in touchdown receptions, founded Modern Class Design — a full-service fine arts and interior/landscape design company that added pop to homes and commercial spaces — with his business partner, Antone Barnes, in San Jose, Calif. In 2012,  while still playing for the San Francisco 49ers, he opened Gallery 85 in the same Bay Area city to showcase new and emerging artists. He studied art at the University of Maryland and fancied himself a painter.

Vernon Davis’s Modern Class Design Promo from Joanna Hidalgo Producer/Editor on Vimeo.

Any Given Sunday Service

Defensive end Israel Idonije is a serial entrepreneur with a LinkedIn profile to prove it. Before he left the NFL in 2015, where he had stints as a Chicago Bear and a New York Giant, he already started several businesses. While at training camp in 2007, he had a lightbulb moment for a comic book called “The Protectors,” which led him to start publishing company Athlitacomics. He then founded Blessed Communion, which manufactures pre-filled and sealed communion cups, in 2009. Later, he started workout and wellness club RSTR and FBRK Impact House, a coworking space for the philanthropic sector.

We Are Stroopwafel

On one of former Arizona Cardinal John Bronson’s first dates with Femke Veelenturf, a school teacher from The Netherlands, she placed a stroopwafel atop his coffee mug. The 200-year-old caramel-filled cookie, warmed by the steam, stole his heart. (Eventually, so did the girl.) When they realized stroopwafels weren’t available in the U.S., Finger Licking Dutch was born. The treats are made in her homeland from local ingredients and shipped back for sale.

Necessary Iciness

A chance meeting on a plane (with someone who turned out to be a distant cousin) led to Minnesota Viking Cullen Loeffler (2004-2014) cutting his side-hustle teeth. Cognizant of the saying that NFL also stands for “not for long,” he was trying to carve out his post-gridiron plans. Joining the team behind Minnesota Ice Sculptures seemed like a cool choice. “This was a great opportunity for my first business,” Loeffler told KARE 11. “What better way to do that than to sell ice to Minnesotans.”

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