Ndamukong Suh has spent the last dozen years as an NFL defensive tackle, terrorizing quarterbacks and punishing linemen who stand in his path.
A five-time Pro Bowler, he may one day be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But while he’s grateful to have put together a fruitful career, earning more than $165 million, the Buccaneer’s lineman wants to leave a legacy greater than his football accomplishments. That’s why he spends time on his off days taking business calls and listening to investor pitches.
“I always wanted to be more than a football player,” Suh, 35, said in an interview. “I’ve always had the passion to be more successful off the field than I was on the field. I have a big task ahead of me to eclipse that.”
Known for his aggressive playing style, and once voted as the league’s dirtiest player by his peers, Suh has lately built more of a reputation as a thoughtful athlete-investor who isn’t shy about sharing money tips or posting an insightful thread about healthy lifestyle changes on Twitter.
Suh jokingly quotes NBA great Charles Barkley in saying that he isn’t a role model, but he hopes that his strategic investments can inspire the next generation of athletes.
“I think early on in your career when you’re comfortable and you feel like you have solid understanding and are making the (right) investments, seeing momentum, that’s when you create generational wealth,” he said. “That’s something that guys should want to establish as they’re building their careers.”
That the next generation of Suhs—namely his nine-month-old twin boys—should be able to live off his football earnings, has not deterred the proud papa from building a wide-ranging investment portfolio that includes venture capital, hospitality, tech and cryptocurrency.
Suh is thinking beyond his family and friends, spearheading Alberta Alley, a development space focused on promoting black business owners and business owners of color. A Ballantyne Strong (NYSE:BTN) board member, he’s also invests with high-end firms Andreessen Horowitz and General Atlantic.
Suh represents himself in NFL contract negotiations, and though he’s grateful that his on-field performance has aided his visibility, he wants his place in the boardroom to be a reflection of his business acumen and knowledge. He’s part of the macrotrend of active athletes—including Tom Brady, LeBron James and Serena Williams among others—who are building out strong investment portfolios, ones that go beyond basic endorsement and ambassador deals.
Tracy Deforge is the co-founder of Players Impact, a venture platform for more 500 pro athletes that has collectively put over $20 million to work over the last five years. Deforge believes more of today’s athletes are waking up to the idea of not just endorsing a company via Twitter, for example, but securing an equity stake in a company and finding ways to generate passive income before retirement.
Seton Hall professor Charles Grantham, who is the former executive director of the NBA players’ union, understands there’s risk in most business ventures but believes athletes simply are wiser today and are making better judgements with their money.
“Education is always at the cornerstone,” said Grantham, who believes technology and social media have also helped drive the trend over the last decade.
While the NFL continues to provide early guidance and support to rookies, encouraging them to hire financial advisors, Suh urges guys in the locker room to go beyond that and seek information that will allow them to be financially secure long-term, especially since the average NFL career lasts three-and-a-half years.
Suh believes his success comes from sheer curiosity, being active and asking questions, starting with the ones he lobbed at his parents as a kid and those he posed later after befriending influential executives like Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A) chairman—and fellow University of Nebraska alum—Warren Buffett and Sun Communities CEO Gary Shiffman, whom he met during his playing days in Detroit. Unlike countless first-rounders who became before him, the former No. 2 overall pick has always acknowledged that his time on the gridiron is limited and has made moves accordingly.
At this stage of his NFL career, Suh’s considered an “old-head” in the locker room, a term that denotes age and wisdom. He’s OK with aging out of the game, and is aiming for a legacy more about creating wealth for others and less about punishing opposing players.