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Broncos’ Russell Okung sees opportunity for NFL players in emerging technology

Denver Broncos’ Russell Okung is at the forefront of helping NFL players engage with startups, invest in new technology and more.

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Denver Broncos’ Russell Okung might live in the trenches on Sundays but off the gridiron, the Pro Bowl left tackle is squarely situated at the heart of sports and technology.

In December, the Oklahoma State University graduate was named one of six Athlete Advisory Board members for the NFLPA’s OneTeam Collective, the first athlete-driven accelerator program in sports. Okung told SportTechie that through his leadership position with the OneTeam Collective, he and his fellow athlete counterparts are hoping to “create as many opportunities” as they can for NFL players beyond what was normally the traditional licensing model. Moving forward, players will have the opportunity to engage with early startup companies to exchange their IP rights for equity stakes in the companies. 

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Below are some further thoughts from Okung—who has invested in companies such as Matcherino, Omni, and Shyft, among others—about advice he gives to other athletes looking to diversify their investment portfolio, emerging technology he is interested in and the goals of his nonprofit organization.

On how he originally was introduced to the opportunities that lie in technology, which began when he played with the Seattle Seahawks  in 2010

Seattle has this huge tech ecosystem with a lot of really interesting things happening out there. I got involved in the community and how tech was such a big part of it. … I really was taken aback because I had never seen anything like it before in my life. … There’s some amazing deals coming out of Seattle, some amazing entrepreneurs. It’s a place to be reckon with.

On his Greater Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides at-risk young students exposure and access to entrepreneurship and the opportunities available in technology

Diversity and culture are at the heart of what we do. We believe in serving our community in a way that is sustainable and will have longevity. We’ve done coding to teaching entrepreneurship. I’m working with VC firms to teach students what entrepreneurship is like.

On advice he gives to NFL players and professional athletes looking to invest

Though tech. can be a very sexy business, it can be very unforgiving and extremely high-rise. I first approach players I’m talking to and ask, ‘What’s your risk tolerance?’ For them, they have to look at their financial portfolio and talk to their financial advisors. … You’ll have your interest building up in your portfolio. Take less than 20 percent and go and do what you want to do with it. You have to, at first, have those discussions about how to invest, where you want to invest, what makes a good deal for you? Those are some real questions athletes should ask themselves before they invest as well as having a good group of advisors who are already in tech. and you can bounce some ideas off of them. … A lot of players have the opportunity and ability to help these companies early on. I think that’s what a lot of these companies want. If I’m a founder, I want someone who can really support my company’s growth and the work that I do. So many players can do that. That’s why it’s become so appealing.

On a valuable piece of technology that Okung incorporates into his training regiment

I just started getting involved with WHOOP. They measure stress, strain and recovery. I would overtrain and not necessarily know what my various readiness levels were. It’s a great product. I’m excited to get on the ground floor of that. … They’re going to kill it. WHOOP has really found a way to differentiate itself in the wearable market.

On NFL players and professional athletes now wanting to understand their bodies 24/7

People really think the game starts on Sunday. It starts throughout the week. Where am I most efficient? All of this will play out on Sunday. … In order to play at an optimal level against another player at their optimal player, I need every edge I can get. I need to have enough sleep, be well-rested, recovered. Preparedness and readiness are new terms but they’re definitely important. I need to know how my body is going to respond. Does this affect my sleep? Some players have found that when they’re drinking at night, they’re not really sleeping efficiently. Once you have that important information, you don’t want to go back.