Apps for Athletes

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April 8, 2012

By Steve Kelly

Kerry Carter & Joe Tafoya

Kerry Carter & Joe Tafoya

The doctor’s words were chilling. Even if Joe Tafoya subconsciously knew the post-surgery verdict on his injured foot, his athlete’s heart was ready to fight against it.

“OK, Joe,” his surgeon told him, “you’ll never be able to run, jump or pivot the way that you have in the past. To the level you have in the past. I don’t know what that means for you in your professional career, but things are going to change drastically for you.”

In the middle of the 2008 training camp, at the tail end of his career, defensive end Joe Tafoya broke a bone and tore ligaments in his foot. The foot was in a boot for six months, an he was condemned to his couch.

“There was one low point in my life, when I sat there on my couch with my foot up,” Tafoya said. “The end of my career was decided for me. There was no chance I could come back, and I said to myself, ‘Holy crap, what am I going to do now?’ ”

Tafoya had spent 22 years of his life heavily investing his time, energy and potential into succeeding at the highest level in his sport. He had been in the NFL since 2001. He went to the Super Bowl in the 2005 season with the Seahawks. Now, that quickly, in the summer of 2008, his career was over.

“It came to an end in a moment’s notice,” he said. “I went through this phase of depression. I really didn’t want to watch football or talk to anybody that had anything to do with football. You almost just want to distance yourself from it.

“When you finally come to that realization that it’s over, then you have a pretty tough decision to make. What’s next? But now I’m finding that my life after football is 100 percent better than I ever thought it would be.”

Kerry Carter, a running back and special-teamer who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seahawks in 2003, played two years in Seattle before going to the Washington Redskins.

In August 2006, he suffered a torn ACL with the Redskins and didn’t get back on the field until he signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in September 2008.

“I’ve had that fear of, ‘What am I going to do after football?’ ” said Carter, a social anthropology student at Stanford. “When you’re sitting there and you’re injured with your leg up, you start looking at the big picture. You start thinking, ‘I have one source of income right now. What happens when that goes? What am I really qualified to do?’ ”

Carter is lucky. At 31 he’s still playing. He went to Canada and rediscovered his love of the game. He has been to three Grey Cups and won two with Montreal, and he’s signed through next season.

Still, he looks back at his knee injury with Washington as a loud wake-up call: the end of his football life was approaching.

“It sobers you,” Carter said of his injury. “You have that mentality that you’re young and nothing’s going to stop you, and then you find out you’re human after all.”

They know how scary the future can look to professional athletes and they want to allay some of those fears. And in the quiet of his afterlife, Tafoya discovered he had an aptitude for apps.

Two years ago, Tafoya, now 33 and a computer-science major from Arizona, bought an 11-year-old Redmond mobile apps distributor. Now he’s joined forces with like-minded former Seahawks Carter, Chike Okeafor and Omare Lowe to form Jump It Media. Tafoya calls himself “The World’s Largest Nerd.”

They’re building profile applications for athletes to help them increase their brands through online channels. Among their subjects are Chicago Bears defensive end Lance Briggs and Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry.

These profile apps will be found on iOS, Android and sites like AT&T and Verizon, and they’ve been getting rave reviews from tech websites.

Carter calls it a “fan engagement platform.” He said they want to create a more intimate and exclusive experience for athletes. Jump It Media also has created a game app called “Mobile Linebacker.” For 99 cents, they encourage you to “unleash your inner linebacker.”

These alumni understand there is life after sports. Tafoya and Carter weren’t high draft picks, and they’ve always had to work harder and grind tougher to make teams. They’re used to being told what they can’t do.

“There’s something about always being in second place that you’re never satisfied,” Carter said. “We’ve always had to hustle to keep our jobs. The league is made up of guys like us.

“You’re always looking over your shoulder and lighting that fire in you and wondering who’s coming next. Now we’re taking that same mentality into the business world. We’re using that mentality to our benefit. There’s nothing we won’t do to find a way to be successful.”

And business is starting to boom.

“We want people to see what’s under the helmet,” Tafoya said. “The way we pitch it to athletes is, ‘There’s all this information on you out there in the world. Shouldn’t you take control of it and manage that brand correctly?'”

Carter said there are studies that say 80 percent of NFL players are either divorced, bankrupt or experiencing financial hardships two years after their careers have ended. He said 65 percent of NBA players experience the same types of problems, three to five years after retirement.

“Guys go through a period of mourning after their careers,” he said. “So who’s doing something about it? Nobody’s really reaching out their hand and creating a blueprint that can help. We want to be that go-to organization.”