Real Leaders

Pro Athletes Build Dream Team of Impact Investors

NFL defensive end Leger Douzable poses for a portrait at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort in Aventura, FL on June 26, 2021.

Over the past year, in communities across the country, Derrick Morgan has quietly built “The Dream Team” of impact investors.

With a unique playbook and the grit and determination that made him a star linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, Morgan in 2021 launched I AM Nation, a network of 40 professional athletes that has come together to share knowledge, pool resources and educate each other on ways to meet collective goals in business and impact investing.

By building a collective of athlete investors, I AM Nation has the influence and critical mass needed to break down barriers and open opportunities for its members and for the communities they came from. 

“I AM Nation is the go-to platform for the athlete that has ambition to continue to grow after the game,” said Morgan. “It’s centered around group economics and the common thread is the greater good and giving back. We’re investing together, building our networks and finding creative ways to give back to our communities.”

Added Leger Douzable (pictured above), a former defensive lineman who’s now a college and professional football broadcaster: “What do we want to accomplish with our investments?  It’s all about leveraging capital, influencing culture, and creating a community.”

The group’s membership is a Who’s Who of elite athletes and includes NBA champions, Pro Bowlers and Super Bowl winners. But it’s what members are doing outside the game that may eclipse their stardom. 

Among I AM Nation’s members are Ex-NFL linebacker Spencer Paysinger, the producer, creator and writer of All American, the successful CW Network series inspired by his life; Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl champion and Pro Bowler, who is today a real estate entrepreneur; former New Orleans Saint Marcus Colston, a professor at University of New Orleans;  and NBA star Josh Childress, who launched Landspire Group, a real estate firm that’s part of TPG NEXT, a new initiative providing growth capital and operating resources to seed, support, and scale the next generation of diverse investors and entrepreneurs. 

That community of peers is what attracted strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, who is building a career after football in real estate. “What I enjoy most is this group of like-minded current and ex-pro athletes joining together in business,” he said. “The power of I AM Nation to pool resources and assets brings an advantage to the community over other investment groups. This being the first group of its kind will not only inspire but be a resource to new professional athletes to educate themselves in investments and maximize their finances.”

For Morgan, I AM Nation is all about capturing the collaborative power of professional athletes and, at the same time, overcoming the silos that sometimes form in a locker room. “On game day, you’re sitting next to your teammates, hyper-focused on the game, but a lot of the time you don’t get to talk about things outside of that realm,” he said. “It’s such a missed opportunity. When do you get that much social and financial influence in a room?”

One powerful tool for busting silos is education. In July, I AM Nation held its first retreat featuring Gary Vaynerchuk, chairman of VaynerX , early-stage investor Anthony Pompliano, community real estate developer Brandon Rule, and Nathan Rodland, General Partner, Elefund and Founding COO, Robinhood, among an impressive line-up of investors and entrepreneurs. Cyprien, who is working on his first real estate project, a 373-unit community development in Orlando, said the retreat was “exceptional. The whole experience was first-class, and the educational portion was memorable and informative.”

For Douzable, I AM Nation’s focus on education and collaboration has a cumulative effect. “I know people always talk about wanting to get a ‘seat at the table,’ but with I AM Nation, we’re creating our own table by realizing the value of our influence to build new opportunities.”

“Without professional athletes, there is no game, but too often we’ve relinquished our value to the powers that be who control the industry,” added Morgan. “So as a collective of professional athletes that is very business-minded, we’re taking our value to the next level.”

The athletes are bringing that value back to their communities through impact investing.  Morgan has made several impact investments—including affordable housing developments in Nashville and a venture investment in Fresno-based Bitwise Industries, a LatinX founded tech training and consulting company that works with underserved populations in underdog markets. Other athletes have also done impact deals, but now are joining forces through the Hometown Fund, a pooled donor advised fund at ImpactAssets. By bringing multiple donors together, the fund is unlocking catalytic investment capital and leveraging the off-the-shelf architecture of donor advised funds to create fast, strategic constructs with deep impact capabilities.

“Part of our education around impact and giving back to the community is to point out that this doesn’t have to be a traditional philanthropic effort, it could be a double bottom line return type of format,” Morgan said. “ImpactAssets represents a very creative resource for our members in terms of giving back and caring for the community they come from. We want to help the guys fulfill their desire to benefit the community and find creative ways outside of the traditional playbook for athletes to get into the community.”

I AM Nation also sees the potential for a “network effect” with the Hometown Fund. With the fund providing seed money for an impact investment, Morgan and other members are developing partnerships that can come alongside and anchor a lot of their efforts. “We don’t have institutional money amongst us, but there are foundations and institutions that do,” he said. “This is a partnership model with strong allies,” including fans, friends and financial services that can form a network of support for impact investments.

But whether it is affordable housing investments or pooled impact capital in The Hometown Fund, Morgan is crystal clear on what he wants to achieve: “I want results. Capital is a very critical piece of the puzzle in terms of moving the needle on a lot of systemic issues. That’s why I gravitated towards the impact investment route because capital gets things done. Whatever else you want to say about it, money moves the needle.”

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