Jan 27, 1991; Tampa, FL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Buffalo Bills cornerback Nate Odomes (37) looks to tackle New York Giants tight end Howard Cross (87) during Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium. The Giants defeated the Bills 19-20. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Just because former New York Giants tight end Howard Cross, 49, played in the NFL, it doesn’t mean he’s kicking back on some beach lined with palm trees in retirement.

The Super Bowl XXV champion and NBC/FOX sports analyst is working harder than ever now in commercial real estate.

“What I tried to do while I was playing football was I tried to do as many internships as I could,” Cross said. “Not that long ago, you needed a job when you retired. That’s kind of the era that I played in. I interned at a sports medicine clinic, I acted for a little in soap operas and commercials and I worked for some investment folks.”

After dipping his toes into many different corporate worlds, he found real estate thanks to buying some property after he retired from the gridiron.

Photo c/o Howard Cross

“I bought property, the market crashed, and I was trying to figure out how to get out of it,” he said. “I realized the broker I hired to buy the property was the same broker I used to sell the property, and although I may make money on the transaction, he’s making money every time something is bought or sold. I said, ‘That’s what I need to be doing.'”

Today, Cross is JRT Realty Group’s new executive managing director. Founded by Jodi Pulice, JRT is the country’s largest certified Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (M/WBE) commercial real estate firm, and Cross is there to help spread awareness on the need for diversity in the industry.

Standing Out but Standing Tall

When Cross first began in commercial real estate ten years ago, he wasn’t your prototypical broker in New York.

“I’m a former athlete and African American. There aren’t many of us out there in this industry,” he said. “In my time, I’ve met about 50 African Americans in the industry, nationally.”

So, why are there so few minorities in the business?

“If I am coming out of college and I have a pretty good college degree, like from Villanova or  Syracuse, I have three options: I can work for Morgan Stanley, I can go work for AIG, or I can go work for a real estate firm. The other two companies may have you on a small income, but the potential to grow is there. In the real estate world, they’ll help you out in the beginning, but it’s really all about, you eat what you kill, and that’s a hard sell for someone. When you’re coming out of college, that’s okay at first, but once you start getting married, you start having kids, you need to have been established for a while. That, in my mind, is the biggest reason why minorities aren’t doing it. If you go to a company, you’re lucky if you do a deal in the first 18 months.”

When Pulice founded JRT in 1996, she was the only female business owner in commercial real estate. And, in an effort to promote diversity in the business, she encouraged Cross to join her team.

“Jodi said, ‘I would like to have a little more diversity in the shop, and I don’t have many men, so it would be great to bring in a good group of men,'” Cross explained.

And in bringing in a former pro football player, Pulice knew she was getting a team player.

“The greatest quality that you can have in any major team sport is being able to work as a group,” Cross said. “The big thing about NFL football is everybody in the building is working toward the same project. You’re trying to get to the same goal; trying to get to the same moment. That’s the same in real estate.”

Photo c/o Howard Cross

Giving Back All Over

Cross, who lives in New Jersey and enjoys watching his 15-year-old twins play sports, is very active in the community whether it’s working with Autism Speaks to attract sponsorships, or participating in various galas, golf tournaments and auctions.

On a weekly basis, he’s involved in fundraising efforts to raise money for kids and education, he gives motivational speeches at churches and high schools, and he visits sick children in hospitals.

He also works to bring awareness to ALS since two close friends were diagnosed, and one recently passed away from the disease.

So, you might say his charitable activities are as diverse as he hopes the commercial real estate industry will be.

How’s that for life after the NFL?