Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith interacts with a first grader at Gwynn Falls Elementary last October.
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith interacts with a first grader at Gwynn Falls Elementary last October. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Longtime NFL cornerback Phillip Buchanon is creating a board game to teach money management and other life skills to kids. Arizona Cardinals long snapper Mike Leach and his wife, Julie, are developing a product to help parents toilet train their toddlers. Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress has introduced a line of colorful, luxury socks.

The budding entrepreneurs just need a little coaching — and not the sort involving the shriek of whistles — to assist them with such things as marketing, branding and contracts.


This Sunday, the group will join a dozen other current and former National Football League players — including Ravens' wide receiver Torrey Smith — at a four-day conference in Baltimore on getting started in consumer products sales. While the NFL has held "boot camps" on broadcasting and other topics, this is its first focusing on product pitches, and it's the first hosted by Baltimore.

The conference isn't designed only for players — such as Burress —who have already started businesses. The Burress collection includes fancy socks with names like "The Bold Stripe," "the Yacht Club" and the "the Paisley Park," each selling for $24 a pair.

"I'm hoping he brings socks for all of the (conference) participants," said former defensive back Troy Vincent, an executive with NFL Player Engagement, which provides off-the-field resources — such as the seminars — for current and former players.

The activities — to be held at an Inner Harbor hotel and at the Under Armour campus — are also for players, such as the Ravens' Smith, who merely hope to enhance their business acumen with an eye on their post-NFL lives.

"I've always been interested in business," said Smith, a criminal justice major who graduated from the University of Maryland in 2010 and has interned with U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore. "I'm not sure what I want to do when football is over with. The more you learn, the better. You're only one play away."

For years, NFL players were often targeted for ill-advised investments. "It was good money going to bad because they were not informed," Vincent said "We lacked job readiness because we lacked the hands-on experience."

During the conference, the players will split into four teams and prepare and present a product pitch to judges, including Vincent and Henry C. Boyd III, associate chair of the marketing department at Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

It's a format akin to "Shark Tank," the reality television series in which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch ideas to potential investors.

At the conference, the pitch "could actually lead to something," Boyd said. "A member of the group could say, 'I've got this idea. I just haven't hammered it out yet.' "

The NFL selected Baltimore because it wanted to tap into the expertise of Under Armour and the Smith School of Business.

The league has left open the possibility of returning to the city for future such events. "Typically we'll stay once we find the right partner," Vincent said.

That would be fine with Boyd, who is leading a number of the seminars at the conference, which ends on March 5.

"We love doing these in our backyard," Boyd said.

Among the conference speakers is former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks, a businessman who heads his own clothing line.


Other current or former players scheduled to attend are defensive end Quinton Coples (New York Jets); running back Charlie Garner, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and other teams; linebacker Nick Greisen, who played for the Ravens in 2007-08; tight end Nate Lawrie, who played for a half-dozen teams; former Giants and Bears receiver Thomas Lewis; linebacker Corey Mays, who played for several teams; Cincinnati Bengals punter Zoltan Mesko; cornerback Dunta Robinson, recently released by the Kansas City Chiefs; former Indianapolis Colts safety Jamie Silva; safety Michael Stone, who played for four teams; and Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham.

Several players' wives —including Julie Leach and Cynthia Zordich, the wife of former cornerback Mike Zordich — are also planning to attend.

"Why wives?" said Vincent. "Because they are the CEOs while their husbands are out on the field playing."


Recommended on Baltimore Sun