The Profit

Professional athletes who started their own small businesses

Professional Athletes Turned Entrepreneurs

Tennis player Maria Sharapova poses with a Sugarpova candy packet during the French launch of her Sugarpova candy collection.
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The career of the professional athlete comes with an expiration date. At some point, it takes a little longer to round those bases. The points are scored less frequently. The knees ache sooner than they used to.

It's at that time that the athlete has to leave the field and find other pursuits. Unfortunately, many athletes don't think this far ahead, and they have a hard time figuring out what to do with the next part of their lives.

Luckily, some athletes have planned ahead, and have found other professional avenues to pursue when they reach the ripe old age of 30. What follows is a list of 10 of them, some of whom left sports for good, and some of whom are still playing. But what they all have in common is that they started their own small businesses and found new success.

Read ahead to see who they are.

By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 24 June 2013

N. D. Kalu

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N. D. Kalu's NFL career began in 1997 when he became a defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles. He left the following year to join the Washington Redskins, only to return to the Eagles in 2001 and then join the Houston Texans in 2006, where he stayed until the end of his professional career in 2008.

He was already thinking of life after his sports career before it was over, and he founded the Kalu Group real estate company in 2007 as a result. According to its official website, the company "invests and operates in the acquisition, rehabilitation, management and sale of properties in both Texas and Pennsylvania."

Rick Mirer

Image source: Rick Mirer

Rick Mirer was a quarterback for several NFL teams. He began his career with the Seattle Seahawks in 1993 and played for such teams as the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders, among others. He retired after an inactive season with the Detroit Lions in 2004.

After football, he went into business with winemaker Rob Lawson and founded Mirror Wine Company in 2008. The Napa Valley, Calif.-based company has released five vintages of cabernet sauvignon and three vintages of its own Mirror Napa Valley sauvignon blanc.

Matt Chatham

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Matt Chatham is a former NFL linebacker whose career began in 2000. He spent six seasons with the New England Patriots and two seasons with the New York Jets. His professional sports career came to an end in 2008, but he wasn't finished pursuing his ambitions.

In 2011, Chatham put his MBA to use and opened SkyCrepers, a fast-serve crepe restaurant in the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro, Mass. According to its website, SkyCrepers "aims to obliterate any old notions of crepes as 'foo-foo' through approachable design and exceptional product range and value."

Mia Hamm

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Mia Hamm was a forward for the U.S. women's national soccer team and a founding member of the Washington Freedom. In 1987 she became the youngest female ever to play with the U.S. national team, at just 15 years old, and with 158 goals she's second on the list for most international goals by a soccer player of either gender, having just been passed by Abby Wambach.

In 1997, her brother Garrett died from complications associated with aplastic anemia. In response, she created the Mia Hamm Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for people in need of bone marrow transplants or cord blood transplants.

Ryan Diem

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Many NFL players bounce around from team to team during their careers, but Ryan Diem wasn't one of them. Starting in 2001, he was an offensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts, and he stuck with them right up to his final season in 2011.

Off the field, Diem founded the Modern Muscle car restoration shop in 2007 in Oswego, Ill. The company website refers to it as "Chicagoland's premier speed shop," which "builds vehicles to only the highest standards."

Greg Norman

Greg Norman
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Greg "The Great White Shark" Norman is an Australian professional golfer who has won 91 professional events, including 20 U.S. PGA Tour titles, according to his official website. He has been the highest-ranked golfer in the world 11 times, including a 96-week period from June 18, 1995, through April 13, 1997.

He is also the chairman and CEO of Great White Shark Enterprises, a multinational corporation whose subsidiaries include Greg Norman Eyewear, the Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy and Great White Shark Golf Management, which offers management and consulting for those thinking of opening their own golf course.

Venus Williams

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Venus Williams is one half of the dynamic duo of women's tennis, with her sister Serena comprising the other. She has won two U.S. Open singles titles and five Wimbledon singles titles, in addition to multiple doubles titles with her sister.

She is also CEO of V Starr Interiors, an interior design firm in Jupiter, Fla. The company's residential clients include Bryant McKinnie of the Baltimore Ravens, and its commercial clients have included Tavis Smiley, whose television talk show set was designed by the firm.

Maria Sharapova

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Tennis player Maria Sharapova burst onto the professional scene at age 17, when she defeated Serena Williams at the 2004 finals at Wimbledon. Today she is the third-highest ranked player in the Women's Tennis Association, but she has interests off the court as well.

In addition to appearing in the 2006 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, she has displayed entrepreneurial acumen with Sugarpova, a premium candy line that she founded. The company's products are predominantly of the gummy variety, but it also offers gumballs in the shape of tennis balls for fans of Sharapova's still-active athletic career.

Eddie George

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Eddie George is a former NFL running back who joined the Houston Oilers in 1996 and stayed with the team for seven years, long enough to turn into the Tennessee Oilers and then the Tennessee Titans. He then served for one season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2004 before retiring.

After leaving the gridiron behind, George founded the EDGE Group, a landscape architecture and design firm. The company's flagship office is in Columbus, Ohio, with other offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Toledo, Ohio.

Alex Bernstein

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Alex Bernstein was an offensive lineman in the NFL for four seasons, playing on four different teams. He started with the Baltimore Ravens in 1997, then moved to the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns before his final season in 2000 on the roster of the Atlanta Falcons.

Today, Bernstein is co-founder of North Social, a start-up that creates apps to allow users to make their own Facebook fan pages. According to the website, Bernstein "fuels, drives and steers platform strategy, operations and business development" for the company.

The Profit

When Marcus Lemonis isn't running his multibillion-dollar company, Camping World, he goes on the hunt for struggling businesses that are desperate for cash and ripe for a deal. In the past 10 years, he's successfully turned around over 100 companies. Now he's bringing those skills to CNBC Prime and doing something no one has ever done on TV before … he's putting over $2 million of his own money on the line. In each episode, Lemonis makes an offer that's impossible to refuse; his cash for a piece of the business and a percentage of the profits. And once inside these companies, he'll do almost anything to save the business and make himself a profit; even if it means firing the president, promoting the secretary or doing the work himself.

The Profit premieres on CNBC Prime Tuesday, July 30, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.