April 9 (UPI) -- Vernon Davis shed his shoulder pads this off-season and retired from the NFL. He is among several star athletes who have shifted their focus toward a Hollywood career.
Davis, 36, now is a full-time actor and producer while he continues the philanthropic efforts he made during a 14-year playing career.
He recently earned the lead actor role in the adventure film Red Winter. And he started a production company called Reel 85, which was introduced at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
The father of three also worked as an executive producer for a biographical film Those Who Move Us in 2018. His credits include a role in the 2019 western Hell on the Border, an appearance in Baywatch in 2017 and several TV series roles.
"My only goal is just to keep getting better in acting and business," Davis said. "The only way to do it is just indulging myself in it. I continue to learn and be proactive."
The Super Bowl champion and former Pro Bowl selection was an art studio major at the University of Maryland before becoming one of the NFL's best tight ends.
He maintained his artistic interests off the field while dominating NFL defenders, taking improvisation acting classes at the Shelton Theater of Art during 10 years with the San Francisco 49ers. He also opened the Gallery 85 art gallery in San Jose, Calif., in 2012.
Davis has long had the urge to act, but said he also was inspired by seeing the late Kobe Bryant succeed in Hollywood after his Hall of Fame basketball career.
"I'm a big fan of Kobe," Davis said. "Just hearing and seeing what he was able to do definitely inspires you. Subconsciously, it's there. Sometimes, there are things that inspire us and we didn't really know they were inspiring us."
Bryant won five NBA championships before retiring and shifting his focus to Hollywood. He won an Academy Award and an Sports Emmy Award for his 2017 animated short film Dear Basketball. Bryant wrote and narrated the film, which was based on a letter he wrote about his love for the game for The Players' Tribune.
"The hardest thing for athletes to do is, when you start over, you really have to quiet your ego and have to begin again," Bryant said in his Oscars acceptance speech. "You have to be a learner all over again."
Bryant then published and co-authored a children's book series called The Wizenard Series. The latest book, The Wizenard Series: Season One, was released March 31, two months after Bryant's death. It is among Amazon's best sellers for children's basketball books."Life is totally unexpected," Davis said. "To be able to say something that Kobe did inspired me is pretty amazing."
Superstar LeBron James also was inspired by what Bryant achieved outside of basketball. James saw Bryant's short film on the day it was released.
"Salute to Kobe Bryant on that Oscar," James tweeted after Bryant won the award. "We are more than 'shut up and dribble.' You just continue to sit back and watch."
A new trend
Like Bryant, James and Davis also started production companies, a trend that is happening around many major sports leagues.
James already has a large media footprint in Hollywood, while still dominating the basketball court. The four-time NBA MVP has appeared in several movies and started SpringHIll Entertainment with business partner Maverick Carter in 2008.
SpringHill produces content on a variety of platforms, including digital, documentary and feature films. James also launched a digital media company called Uninterrupted in 2014.
Quarterback Tom Brady launched a production company, 199 Productions, in March. The 199 is a reference to Brady being selected as the No. 199 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
"When I was the 199th draft pick in 2000, I knew I needed to work hard every day to prove myself," Brady said in an Instagram post. "Launching a production company is no different. ... I believe in the essence of teamwork, and I have no doubt, our 199 Productions team and partners will create inspiring content to share with the world."
The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant, former Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder, veteran NFL linebacker Terrell Suggs and running back Marshawn Lynch are among other professional athletes who recently launched production companies and appeared in movies.
Athletes also use the production companies to manicure how they are perceived by fans, curating their own videos and photos for social media posts instead of depending on other media providers for content and promotion.
Former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter sparked the idea of athletes using their own voice as a media platform to speak directly to fans by founding The Players' Tribune.
In 2015, Bryant and his venture capital firm invested millions of dollars to partner with Jeter's website.