Playing professional sports doesn’t come without consequence. The grueling schedule of college athletics means certain educational opportunities aren’t always available. Film sessions, practices, and travel leave little room for anything other than sports.

There are many players who have done things right, however, maintaining a focus on life after sports while playing in college and professionally.

Here are a few I have the pleasure of knowing personally:

Nate Burleson: The Media Mastermind

I met Nate when he signed with the Detroit Lions in 2010. A likable person and a natural-born leader, Nate quickly become one of the most-liked players in the locker room.

From a business standpoint, he did a number of things right to set himself up for the media success he’s experiencing now.

  • He always made himself available to the media, building respectful relationships. This is critical, because the ability to go to the well of media relationships when promoting a business is huge.
  • He built strong relationships with the front office, allowing him to take advantage of broadcast bootcamps and guest anchor opportunities while he was still playing.
  • He networked like crazy.

Now Nate is living in New York, co-hosting Good Morning Football on NFL Network, and looking ahead to The NFL Today on CBS in the fall.

Ryan Broyles: The Saver

Ryan is a perfect example of what one should do after signing a contract: he lived well below his means and saved. This is rare in our society, let alone professional sports!

What happened with Ryan’s career, however, revealed the choice he and his wife, Mary Beth, made to be even more critical. Ryan suffered multiple injuries throughout his three years in the NFL and never saw a second contract.

He and Mary Beth made headlines with the way they lived on $60,000 per year, giving interviews to a number of different media outlets.

He is now enjoying a career in real estate, but — as an avid reader and student of business — I have no doubt he will continue to grow as an entrepreneur.

Drew Stanton: The Connector

I spent last weekend in Lansing with Drew, his wife, Kristin, and two of my former colleagues, Kim Doverspike and Chad Walker, both of whom work with Drew’s High 5ive Foundation.

Drew enjoyed a decorated career as the starting quarterback at Michigan State before he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2007. Remaining in the state he grew up in and played college football, he started his foundation right away.

That foundation has continued for a decade thanks to the way Drew leverages his Michigan State and NFL connections. He has one primary event each summer — his celebrity golf outing and charity auction — which funds everything the foundation does.

His foundation has done work with Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Special Olympics of Michigan, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Now a 10th-year veteran with the Arizona Cardinals, Drew is a great example of working a network to create a successful foundation.

Doing it Right

Leveraging a career in pro sports is about more than showing up — Nate, Ryan, and Drew are great examples of actively taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them. When players truly see what they have open to them, the possibilities are endless.