This story is part of Only A Game’s “Time Show” which examines how the passage of time influences sports.
Jeremy Bloom competed in two Olympics as a freestyle skier. He was drafted by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 2006, though his pro football career was derailed by injuries. In 2008, he established Wish of A Lifetime, a foundation that grants wishes to the elderly, and he’s the CEO of Integrate, a company he co-founded that helps clients coordinate advertising strategies.
Bloom joined Bill to discuss his transition from pro sports to business.
BL: You’ve acknowledged that when you were 19 — a world champion skier and freshman All-American football player at the University of Colorado, you were “scared to death” about what would happen after athletics. What was the source of that fear?
At 19, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Well, what is my life going to look like after football and skiing?"Jeremy Bloom
JB: The source of the fear — it was wrapped up in the identity that you establish as a professional athlete. You pretty much live your entire life as, whatever the sport may be, that sport defining you. And in my life, that was very true in two sports. I was "Jeremy Bloom the football player" or "Jeremy Bloom the skier." And it's a pretty amazing lifestyle; you're traveling the world, getting paid to ski in the Swiss Alps.
It's a little crazy. I mean people like you, and people want to do things for you. Throughout my athletic career, I watched friends retire and just really lose this identity. And a lot of them would become depressed, and some of them would make bad investment decisions and lose money. So at 19, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Well, what is my life going to look like after football and skiing?" and, "What are things I could do now at 19 that could translate into this new world that at some point I am going to experience?"
BL: Do you think other pro athletes share the fear of what happens when they’re done playing, or do most of them deny that day will ever come?
JB: Well, it's a bit of a mix, but I certainly know that there are a lot of players that think about that. I partnered with the NFL this past year and the Wharton Business School in San Francisco to bring out 40 players in the NFL and expose them to Silicon Valley, so they could start thinking about what they wanted to do next in their career.
And the NFL has this incredible program for NFL players: you can take business classes at Stanford [Graduate School of Business], Kellogg [School of Management], Harvard [Business School], or [The] Wharton [School]. And just spending time with those 40 guys, they're all thinking about what's next. And there were some rookies that came out. There were some second-year players that came out for that program. And I think part of the reason they did — obviously the interest in Silicon Valley and start-ups and tech, but I think a big driver of them to come out to it was fear — fear of what they're going to do after athletics. And I think there's unhealthy sources of fear and healthy sources of fear, and I think that's a healthy source of fear.
BL: Only A Game did a story 10 years ago about the program at Harvard Business School for NFL players, and one of the messages some players got there was to understand that nothing they do in their post-playing career will give them the thrills that playing in the NFL had given them. Is that good advice?
JB: I think it's fair advice. I heard that as well and I never truly believed it. And I started a company, and it just started growing really quickly and, before I knew it, we're almost five years old. We've raised $40 million of venture capital, so, you know, there is a lot of pressure in my life to perform. That's real stakes that you're playing in, and you have over 100 employees and you're focused on building a great culture and a good team.
You know, is it the butterflies that I got when I was returning a punt against 11 crazy guys that were much larger than I was and wanted to take my head off? Maybe not, but you still deal with the pressures of competition. So I think you can get that stimulation. It's just in a different form.
BL: Do you ever look back and think, “Gee, I was good enough to play 10 to 12 years in the NFL.” Are disappointed you didn’t have that kind of NFL career?
JB: No, I look back and I say, "What a perfect NFL career for me." Because I got exposure to two incredible organizations — the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles — and I got to share the locker room with Ben Roethlisberger, and Hines Ward, Donovan McNabb — all these players I really looked up to. And I got to experience that without too much injury. So, no, I look back and am quite happy with the career I had.
BL: You studied at the Wharton business school when you were an NFL rookie. The NFL and the players' union also partners with Harvard Business School, Northwestern’s Kellogg School, Stanford Graduate School of Business and others. What are the most important things those programs should provide?
JB: Really easy: provide the first step. And just like in anything in life, when you set a goal, you set this really big goal. And for a professional athlete, moving on (or what's next), that's a really big unknown, kind of scary goal. And what those programs do such a good job to provide is that first step and that direction. And those programs are great connectors — not only to the things that matter, but the people that matter.
This segment aired on August 22, 2015.