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Los Angeles Chargers lineman and OneTeamCollective board member Russell Okung at CES in 2017. (GeekWire photo / Taylor Soper)

TAYLOR’S TAKE ON THE WEEK IN SPORTS TECH: It’s not uncommon to brush shoulders with celebrities roaming around at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But it wasn’t always normal to see top athletes checking out the latest geeky gadgets and innovations at the world’s largest tech expo.

That has changed in the past few years, and the increasing presence of the NFL Players Association at CES is one example of that.

Led by The OneTeam Collective, a business accelerator created by the NFLPA with partners like Intel and Harvard, there will be more than 30 current and former NFL players attending CES next week.

After launching in November 2016, The OneTeam Collective made its first stop at CES last year, bringing along a few leaders and other players.

Now the group, which helps match current and former NFL players with business opportunities, will have a larger cohort in Las Vegas next week while hosting its own pitch and networking events. Some of the folks attending include NFLPA President Eric Winston; former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston; Oakland Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie; New York Jets offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum; and many others.

Ahmad Nassar. Photo via NFLPA.

Ahmad Nassar, the organization’s board chairman and also president of NFL Players, Inc., the licensing and marketing subsidiary of the NFLPA, told GeekWire that he and his colleagues were “blown away” last year at CES. He noted the opportunity to network with folks in the tech industry and to “get outside the sports business bubble.”

“The players are by and large digital natives — they grew up with this stuff and a lot of them really like it,” Nassar said of technology. “It’s their hobby and interest, and some of them would like it to be more than that with business opportunities while they play or potentially after their playing days are done. We commend that.”

The OneTeam Collective essentially makes it easier for NFL players, both current and retired, to exchange their clout for equity. After one year, the group has invested $5 million across four startups in its portfolio: Whoop, StatMuse, Rep the Squad, and CampusLore. It built an 8-person athlete advisory board and worked with eight founding partners, including top venture capital firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) and Madrona Venture Group.

Nassar said his team is happy with the progress after one year, but not satisfied. It hopes to find ways to generate revenue and be more targeted about its areas of focus. He’s also learned how important it is for current and former athletes to do thorough due diligence for potential investments and business opportunities.

NFLPA is certainly not the only sports-related group at CES, which now has dedicated areas on the show floor for fitness and other sports innovations. Turner Sports is again hosting several panels and filming its Inside the NBA show from CES next week with Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson.

Catching up with Charles Barkley at CES last year.

Team GeekWire will be back at CES next week, reporting on all the latest tech trends and innovations. I’ll be taking a close look at sports tech at CES this year, so be sure to stay up-to-date with our latest coverage here, or follow our reports on Twitter at #GeekWireCES.

Highlights from the week in sports tech

What to watch this weekend: NFL playoffs kick off Saturday with Titans vs. Chiefs (ESPN) and Falcons vs Rams (NBC); Bills vs. Jaguars (CBS) and Panthers vs. Saints (FOX) on Sunday … the National Championship is Monday as Alabama faces Georgia at 8 p.m. on ESPN … some fun college hoops action on Saturday as UNC visits Virginia (ESPN) and Oklahoma plays West Virginia (ESPN2).

Thanks for tuning in, everyone! — Taylor Soper

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