The 'dumb jock' label is a broad and often unfair general characterization of professional athletes. Granted, some will sometimes give us little reason to believe otherwise. But while some fail to see past the temporary nature of their natural, elite talents and into a future post-playing career, many find a way to use the connections established in their pro days and their inherent competitive mindset to thrive after retirement.
In some ways, the business world can parallel the sports world - and recognizable athletes can boast an automatic leg up when it comes to getting noticed within a competitive marketplace. Just like sports, the business world can be cutthroat with multiple forces at work vying for the same thing, albeit with the potential for more than one winner to emerge. It certainly helps to have the edge that comes along with a playing career filled with adulation, attention and the recognition stemming from years in the public eye.
The question becomes, then, how those advantages are used. For every story of an athlete blowing an eye-popping amount of earned salary through bad investments, ill-advised spending, an entourage of hangers-on and trust placed in the wrong people, there are less publicized accounts of former pros who are thriving in retirement. It isn't nearly as exciting to hear of a former player investing wisely or launching a successful business venture as it is to hear about how quickly tens of millions of dollars can be flushed down the toilet.
It's still remarkable, though, to consider that these athletes have managed to out-earn their playing day selves, particularly considering the going rate for professional athletes across just about any mainstream sport. Sure, some of the names on this list didn't have the benefit of superstar talent or coming along in today's era of mammoth, multi-million dollar contracts. But it's a credit to all included here that they quickly adapted to a post-playing day second life that has brought with it a nice chunk of change.
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20 Oscar De La Hoya
For many boxers, life after a decorated in-ring career can bring its own unique challenges and difficulties. Years of being jabbed, punched and knocked around can take their toll, leaving behind head trauma, pain and a variety of unpleasant complications. Evidently not for "Golden Boy" Oscar De La Hoya, a 10-time titlist who has put his ring moniker to use with the thriving Golden Boy Promotions. As the majority shareholder, De La Hoya and partners (and fellow pugilists) Bernard Hopkins, Joseph Ochoa and Ricky Hatton have quickly turned the company into a promotional heavyweight on the boxing scene.
19 Eric Cantona
Some stateside may not have heard of Eric Cantona the soccer star, nor Eric Cantona the actor. But the Frenchman was able to follow up a celebrated (and controversial) career with the national team and at Manchester United by enjoying a successful foray into acting. Cantona's second career was primarily comprised of roles in French films, although he did secure a major role as Monsieur de Foix in the 1998 Cate Blanchett film Elizabeth. Starring in a biopic about the British royal family carried no shortage of irony for a man who was known in his playing days as "The King."
18 Derek Jeter
Considering he's been retired for all of 10 months now, Derek Jeter hasn't quite had the time to surpass the whopping $269 million he amassed over 20 seasons with the Yankees. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been busy in trying to get there. His first prominent post-playing business has been The Player's Tribune, a first-person online forum for athletes to speak directly to fans rather than through the media. Jeter has also launched Jeter Publishing, an arm of Simon & Schuster that has already released two books.
17 Robert Elliott
Robert Elliott was a power forward and center out of the University of Arizona who enjoyed a nondescript, modest three-year NBA career with the New Jersey Nets in the late-70s, early-80s. What he's done since, though, has been anything but. On top of owning the long-established Elliott Accounting Group, the former Academic All-American serves as Head Chairman of the Retired NBA Players Association, has remained active in the community with basketball-related charity endeavors in in hometown of Tucson and even authored a book, Tucson A Basketball Town.
16 Sachin Tendulkar
When you are one of the most famous figures in a country with a population of over 1.2 billion people, chances are that you'll have opportunities to capitalize on your fame, even as you step out of the spotlight. Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar remains one of the country's most recognizable athletes and, despite retiring in 2013, boasts the business interests to prove it. He earned $13 million in his first year of retirement thanks to retaining sponsorship ties to companies like Adidas, Coca Cola, Future Group, Toshiba, and Aviva India.
15 Rick Mirer
Quarterback Rick Mirer played for five teams over 8 NFL seasons, but it wasn't until a pair of late career stints with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders that Mirer saw his post-NFL future crystallized. It was during that time that off-day visits to Napa Valley enabled him to pursue a passion for wine. In 2008, four years after calling it quits, he opened the Mirror Wine Company. Since opening, the Company has grown into a highly profitable outfit, with a percentage of wine sales benefiting the Notre Dame alum's other passion project, the Mirer Family Foundation.
14 Hakeem Olajuwon
A basketball legend who forged his career on blocks is now dealing with blocks of an entirely different kind. Hakeem Olajuwon has earned more than $100 million away from the court in the real estate business. The former Rocket has stayed in the Houston area, where he purchases real estate with cash only, on account of Islamic rules that forbid the charging or paying of interest. The seven-footer's lucrative NBA career made his second life as a realtor possible, but credit Olajuwon for making the most of the opportunities presented to him.
13 Gary Player
You never hear of a retired baseball player making a post-career living out of designing ballparks and yet the practice is commonplace in golf, where legends of the links have enjoyed great success in lending their name to course designs. South African great Gary Player has made over $20 million in post-career earnings through more than 40 course design projects, only two on which are in the US. His corporate sponsors for these projects include Rolex, Callaway and SAP. Not bad for a guy on the cusp of his 80th birthday!
12 Jim Brown
They don't make 'em like they used to when it comes to guys like Jim Brown, whose NFL record for career rushing yards held up for almost 20 years before being broken by Walter Payton. This, despite having played just nine seasons and retiring at age 30 to pursue acting. Brown's second life as a Hollywood actor landed him almost 50 roles, including 16 leading roles as one of the most prominent black actors of his time. Since hanging up the cleats, he has also done color commentary on both NFL football and UFC, as well as founding the Amer-I-Can program for at-risk Los Angeles youth.
11 Michael Strahan
It took former New York Giants great Michael Strahan 10 years in the NFL to earn the $5 million that he made in 2013 as a rookie host on ABC's Live! with Kelly and Michael. The NFL's career sacks leader didn't take long to transition from the gridiron and become one of the busiest men in showbiz, beginning work on Live! and Fox NFL Sunday before even technically retiring. Now, on top of his plum gig alongside Kelly Ripa and his NFL broadcast duties, he has been a movie star (Magic Mike XXL), a celebrity pitchman (Subway and Vaseline Men) and even runs a production company (SMAC Entertainment).
10 Roger Staubach
If Roger Staubach isn't the living embodiment of the American dream, then no such thing exists. Staubach won the Heisman trophy while attending the Naval Academy and, upon completing his required services, later sparked the Dallas Cowboys' 1970s transition into America's Team with two Super Bowl victories. The Cowboys legend used part of his time in Dallas to launch a commercial real estate business, The Staubach Company. After thriving in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for over 30 years, Staubach sold the company in 2008 to Jones Lang LaSalle for $613 million, whereupon Staubach stayed on as executive chairman.
9 Nolan Ryan
The Hall of Fame fireballer was never shy about demonstrating his aggressive mean streak while he was on the mound over what was a 27-year career and it has been those same instincts that have served him well in the years since. Despite his lengthy career, Nolan Ryan has managed to double his playing day earnings during a lucrative retirement that has seen him turn an assortment of smaller assets (minor league teams, a bank, a restaurant and a beef company) into smart investments that ultimately led to his purchase of the Texas Rangers. He has since sold his shares in the Rangers, but remains in baseball as a Houston Astros special assistant.
8 David Whelan
English soccer standout David Whelan was playing for the Blackburn Rovers in 1960 when an ugly leg injury cut short his playing career before he had even turned 24. He was left with precious little when the club handed him £400 and sent him on his way. With that money (just over $600 US), Whelan bought a small grocery chain and sold it for £1.5 million, then flipped that into a fishing shop which grew to become Britain's largest sporting goods retailer and then sold his shares for £190 million in order to purchase his hometown club, Wigan Athletic, which has now gone from Division III to the Premier League.
7 Jack Nicklaus
The Golden Bear won 18 majors over his illustrious career, so he knows a thing or two about golf courses. Like so many of his legendary contemporaries, Jack Nicklaus has found a second life on the links as a course designer and developer. Few, however, can boast a course that plays host to an annual PGA event. However, Nicklaus' Muirfield Village course plays host to the annual Memorial Tournament. Beyond his over 300 course designs, Nicklaus also owns an equipment and apparel company, has lent his name to promote a variety of products and has even authored a few books.
6 George Foreman
To those of a certain age, George Foreman was an imposing, fearsome prize fighter and one of the greatest heavyweights of all-time. To those of a younger vintage, however, Foreman is the man behind the "lean, mean, fat-reducing grilling machine." Few athletes have enjoyed as successful an endeavor as the pugilist has experienced with his George Foreman Grill, which has earned him an estimated $200 million. Foreman reportedly earns as much as 40% of the profit off of each grill sold.
5 Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson's $45 million worth of earnings during his playing career was incredibly lucrative for its time, but proved to be nothing compared to what the "Showtime" Lakers superstar would earn upon retirement. Between urban revitalization, savvy investments, pitchman duties and buying the Los Angeles Dodgers, Magic Johnson Enterprises has transformed into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Prior to his Dodgers purchase, Magic turned a 4.5% share of the Lakers from $10 million into over $50 million. Now, he's sitting pretty with a $500 million net worth.
4 Arnold Palmer
Anyone who has a drink named after them doesn't need to worry about their legacy. But despite a golf career that ranks among the sport's all-time best, Palmer has reached even higher heights in the years since. Considered by some as the first corporate athlete, Palmer had a hand in the development of the Golf Channel and even became the first American to build a golf course in China. His whopping $675 million net worth comes from over 200 golf courses, the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the lemonade/iced tea combination that bears his name.
3 David Beckham
The global marketability of soccer star David Beckham has carried over seamlessly into his second career as a retired athlete. Becks still has a ways to go to match the money he earned as a footballer for Man United, Real Madrid, the LA Galaxy and other clubs, but he's certainly off to an impressive start. In just one year after his 2013 retirement, Beckham had inked sponsorship agreements with Sands, China Auto Rental and the Chinese Super League, while also taking steps towards bringing an MLS franchise to Miami.
2 Roger Penske
The racing career of Roger Penske was fairly nondescript, but what the owner of Team Penske and the Penske Automotive Group has done since then has been anything but. Penske retired in 1965 and began what was then Penske Racing. Since then, his $19 billion racing empire has produced 15 Indy 500 winners and over 100 NASCAR race victors, pushing Penske's personal net worth to $1.4 billion. Penske Automotive Group now ranks as the second-largest publicly traded auto retailer.
1 Michael Jordan
Name a major global brand and chances are that Michael Jordan has attached his name to it at some point - Nike, Gatorade, Wheaties, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Chevrolet, among others. It is Nike's Jordan brand that has kept His Airness amassing an even greater fortune in retirement, including a stunning 2013 in which he ranked as the second-highest earning athlete (behind Floyd Mayweather), either retired or active. MJ also owns seven restaurants, a car dealership and an 80% stake in the Charlotte Hornets.
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