CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Blake Martinez has put his embattled Pokemon trading card business on hold and is returning to the NFL.
The 29-year-old linebacker has joined the Carolina Panthers practice squad and the team is hoping he can help offer some stability to a position that has been ravaged by injuries.
The Panthers (1-7) play the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, although coach Frank Reich said he’s unsure if that will be enough time for Martinez to get up to speed given that he’s only participated in one practice.
Martinez has been out of football since last November when he abruptly announced his retirement from the Las Vegas Raiders to focus on “family and future passions.”
One of those passions included Pokemon cards.
In 2022 he started “Blake's Breaks,” a company which buys and sells Pokemon cards and reportedly did $8.3 million in revenue in just nine months, according to a CNBC report. One of his rare Pokemon cards was sold for $672,000.
But his company's reputation took a major hit in August when it was permanently removed from Whatnot — an online social marketplace that allows users to sell products to each other — after being accused of scamming buyers.
“We really appreciate the community’s commitment to reporting trust & safety issues,” Whatnot posted on Twitter. “Our priority is ensuring a fair and honest experience for customers and upholding our community guidelines. After a comprehensive investigation into Blakesbreaks’ operations we have decided to permanently remove the seller from our platform, including the individual employees involved in misconduct.”
Martinez defended his company, saying there are “a lot of things out there that aren’t true" and “a lot of false claims.”
Regardless, he has put Blake's Breaks on hold while working internally to fix issues within the company.
“There is a lot more due diligence in the things that I was doing, the process that I was going through and the people that I was bringing on just to make sure those things didn’t happen,” Martinez said.
For now, his focus is back on football.
A fourth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2016, Martinez had four straight productive seasons with at least 144 tackles from 2017-2020 before suffering a torn ACL in 2021 while playing for his second team, the New York Giants.
He played only four games last season for the Raiders before announcing his retirement.
He doesn't regret the decision to leave the NFL, saying that the Raiders deserved a 100% commitment that he couldn't give at that time. But after some time away from the game, he was thrilled when the Panthers asked him to come in for a workout.
“Every competitor wants every chance they get to go and play,″ Martinez said Tuesday. “Any opportunity I get I’ll gladly take. There’s obviously a process to it. I feel like if you went to anyone and said, ‘Hey, you want to play on Thursday Night Football?’ They’d be, ‘Hell, yeah!’ No matter who it is.″
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