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MJ McFarland and Peyton Thompson are Reaching Austinites Off the Football Field & in the Community

Learn how former NFL players turned real estate agents are helping athletes transition off the field while supporting underserved communities

MJ McFarland and Peyton Thompson (photo by Daniel Nguyen)

Most professional athletes retire before turning 30 years old, according to RBC Wealth Management. So what happens when you’re no longer playing?

Whether it’s after retirement or in the off season — a life apart from sports can feel daunting, isolated and directionless. Luckily, for Austin athletes, a support system may not be as distant as you think. Around 2020, former NFL players MJ McFarland and Peyton Thompson launched the Players Reach Foundation, a syndicate that connects current and retired athletes in Austin and supports them as they transition to careers post-sports. Most importantly, they use these opportunities to give back to underserved communities in Austin through fundraising, mentorship and team-building events.

McFarland says surrounding yourself with people outside of sports encourages a realistic view of success and careers.

“You see the same people continue to be successful for generations because they see at a young age (that you) don’t have to be an athlete,” McFarland says. “There are ways you can create a career and lifestyle outside of dribbling a ball or catching a football.”

Player’s Reach team of volunteers (photo by Zaid Patel)

Reaching Athletes

After retiring from professional football in 2018 and pursuing careers in real estate, both McFarland and Thompson faced the challenges that plague individuals leaving pro sports — one of them being a lack of direction.

In forming Players Reach, McFarland and Thompson combined their personal and professional networks so athletes could reach across industries and discover interests outside of sports. This can be as big as inviting an athlete to job sites to shadow other professionals, or as small as grabbing coffee with them to discuss career ideas.

McFarland says his catalyst in forming Players Reach stemmed from growing up without non-sports-related role models.

“(Having examples) broadens your horizons,” McFarland says. “It gives you the opportunity to explore other things in case sports doesn’t work out, because every athlete has an expiration date.”

McFarland prepared for life post-sports because he knew that injuries could quickly end a sports career. In seeking careers that promise flexibility, he landed on real estate.

Similarly, Thompson primarily knew successful athletes growing up but had a few role models not associated with sports. However, Thompson’s main challenge was connection, as upon returning to Austin, he realized how isolating a post-sports life can be — even for current athletes.

“As athletes, you stay isolated,” Thompson says. “When you’re outside of any sport and you go home, you’re home; you’re not doing a bunch of stuff, especially in the offseason.”

After McFarland and Thompson reconnected in Austin, the need for connection and direction among current and former athletes emerged and ushered in the era of Players Reach.

MJ McFarland shopping with Austin family (photo by Zaid Patel)

Reaching Austin

If connecting athletes is the ligaments and tendons of Players Reach, giving back to the Austin community is the backbone that holds it all together. After stepping outside the sports world, Thompson felt void of an outlet for philanthropic efforts.

“The holidays roll around and (I thought), ‘We should be doing something for somebody else,’” Thompson says. “Let’s get together and help other people like we typically do around the holidays instead of just our families.”

Players Reach provides an outlet for the sports community to serve others, off the field. One way they do this is through their annual event, Toys For Joy, in which they partner with KIPP schools in Austin and Target to take underserved youth shopping during the holidays and spend quality time with them.

Thompson says the philanthropic aspect of Players Reach speaks to the bigger picture of how the collective aims to help others.

“(Players Reach) isn’t (here) because we have business professionals who want to be athletes and athletes who want to be business professionals,” Thompson says. “It’s (here) because we’re creating an environment where we’re helping other people — whether that’s financially, (with) knowledge, (or through) life experience.”

McFarland and Thompson hope to expand their efforts and are working toward potentially hosting an annual golf tournament to raise awareness of their brand and mission. 

MJ McFarland & volunteers (photo by Zaid Patel)

Reaching… the World?

When they’re not connecting athletes to careers or hosting events to serve the Austin community, they’re in full swing with real estate. McFarland and Thompson recently joined The Agency Austin, a global brokerage brand with a boutique culture, to gain a broader reach — to clients, their network and others in need.

With real estate as their first career after sports, McFarland and Thompson face a sea of options for their future. They’ve made their mark on the field, and now they’re making their mark in the world… and they’re just getting started.