Post-retirement can be a tough transition for many National Football League players after their playing days are over. However, the NFL has made strides in recent years to set up athletes for success in business once their bodies can no longer sustain hits on the field, with the largest percentage of former players involving themselves in small business/entrepreneurship opportunities.

Bradie James, who played 9 seasons as a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, is a great example of a player who has found success after retirement from the NFL. James currently serves as Director of Brand Engagement for MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes and owns several MOOYAH locations. He has also invested in other businesses since leaving the football field behind.

Key to James' success was starting to plan for his future before retiring from the NFL.

"I started franchising while I was playing," explains James. "From there, what we started doing was purchasing different locations with MOOYAH. It was attractive to me, because it was a startup and in Dallas, which is where I was living and playing."

But James will admit that, at first, he didn't have a real appreciation for what he was getting into.

"After the first 2 weeks I got in, I asked, 'What the hell did I get myself into?' There was a lot to process."

Yet, James still highly encourages current NFL players to do what they can while they are in the league, and to begin thinking about and executing on what they want to accomplish off the field. James will join others in educating younger players and recently retired athletes at the annual NFL Business Academy taking place February 26 through March 2 at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He has had a role in the program for each of the past 3 years.

"We tell guys that anybody can do it," says James. "A lot of the problem is [NFL team] owners don't want athletes doing more than playing ball. That's the ugly truth. They want them to be all-in for football. My advice to guys looking into franchising is to really do it yourself. Don't rely on other people, especially at the beginning, because you have to learn every facet about the business to be successful. It's no different than playing ball. You won't be successful in the beginning but you have to work through it."

James realized that he had something valuable in his hands through franchising when he was visiting Denton, Texas and a random man walked up to him indicating an interest in buying his store. The store didn't even exist yet. It changed his whole outlook on franchising.

"What attracted me to franchising is that it's very similar to athletics," adds James. "You basically have a playbook with people who have worked out the kinks. Just like when a play is called on the field, you can still make it your own. I didn't have to reinvent the wheel or stumble on an opportunity. Plus, I wanted to give my family an opportunity to work if they wanted to."

James' situation is unique because he got in early. He recognizes that many people harp on the negative aspects of athletes' lives once they are done playing professionally. James is trying to change that stigma through his own accomplishments, while educating current athletes who are the future franchise owners in America.

Published on: Feb 23, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.