If anyone understood how cutthroat the NFL is when it comes to losing your job, it was Joe Tafoya. But after a seven-year NFL career that included playing in Super Bowl XL with the Seattle Seahawks, Tafoya didn't expect the end to come so suddenly and brutally.
Cut by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 preseason, Tafoya was brought in for a workout for the New Orleans Saints. In the middle of the tryout, he suffered a foot fracture. The Saints medical staff gave him a bag of ice and some ibuprofen for the pain, Tafoya recalled, and sent him on his way.
“I had to sign an injury liability form releasing the Saints from liability,” Tafoya said. “That was it.”
Just like that, it was over. Tafoya had joined the ranks of countless others whose NFL careers ended on something other than the player’s own terms.
Many such players struggle in life after football. The routine and regimented and competitive nature of the sport is suddenly gone, and the adjustment to a different life is difficult. But Tafoya was determined not to fall into the trap of depression, and he found two like-minded friends and former NFL players who shared his vision.
Tafoya and former Cardinals teammate Chike Okeafor bought Viva! Vision, a Latin American-based media company that was an offshoot of a larger conglomerate broken up by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Together with former NFL-now Canadian Football League running back Kerry Carter, a plan to develop smart phone applications for athletes took shape.
“We were able to open those doors with our status (as pro athletes). Tafoya said. “We were introduced to this platform before anyone else.”
Viva! Vision recently unveiled a smart phone game app, Mobile Linebacker, for which Okeafor, Carter and Tafoya helped design the movements and image of the principal character with the help of hired developers.
Tafoya, who makes his home near Seattle, reconnected with a college buddy, Dallas Mavericks guard and Seattle native Jason Terry. Viva! Vision is now in the latter stages of designing a custom app for Terry tailored to his fans, and content development with more athletes is in the works.
“We are facilitators,” Okeafor, who spent 11 full seasons in the NFL and played in a Super Bowl, said. “We want to create mobile storefronts for our peers so they can continue to interact with their fans in a more intimate way.”
Essentially, Viva! Vision seeks out other athletes to help them build their brands.
“There’s no reason for athletes to lose connection with their fans,” Okeafor added.
But more important to the trio is the positive message they feel they send to current and former NFL players and pro athletes that there is life after playing days, that re-inventing yourself after being in the game is possible.
“I don’t think they ever really expect as much as they get from us,” Tafoya said, referring to when he and his partners meet tech company executives.
“I just want people to see what we do and be proud,” he added.
Carter, Stanford-educated, said he and his friends-slash-business associates are taking their athletic intelligence and translating everything they’ve learned into business intelligence.
“There’s so many negative stories about guys who are divorced or going broke or have health problems,” Carter said. “We want to show that we’re a success… We want people to know that it’s a group of football players that have made this go.”
José M. Romero, a freelance writer for the Associated Press, FoxSportsArizona.com and several other sports web sites, has covered Major League Baseball, the NFL and Major League Soccer. He is based in Phoenix, Ariz. Follow him on Twitter: @mividadeportiva.