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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Commentary: ESPN 30 for 30: “Broke” – Part I

As I sat yesterday watching yet another thought provoking episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series about athletes and their mismanaged funds I couldn’t help catching myself jaw-dropped. Since this is a subject that renders many opinions I thought it would be a good idea to launch a three part series to discuss the age-old issue of athletes reportedly “losing everything.”
So here goes part one…
Admittedly I too, although having a short career in the NFL, never thought I would see the faces of those who came forward to speak of their money “woes” as former professional all-stars and potential hall of famers. I mean, really… these guys made a ton of money. MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!
Keith McCants All-American Linebacker
and first round draft pick
Photo: AP

Some of their stories were horrific…even an admission of guilt/abuse from former NFL superstar Bernie Kosar at the hands of his father and a former teammate of mine and NFL top five draft pick (Keith McCants) admitted to having issues with saying “no” to loaning money that he knew he wouldn’t get back.
Say wha?? Wait, you loaned money full on knowing that you wouldn’t get it back? What the hell were you thinking? Wait…that’s part two of our series – don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s get back on track.
Here’s a standard question: How is it that these men were so ill-equipped to handle the pressures and expectations of their immediate fame and wealth as professional athletes? I mean, athletes are taught from day one how to pick up the blitz, turn a 6-4-3 double play and run the perfect pick ‘n roll right? Did anyone have some advice on how to handle the sudden fame and fortune that was literally dumped on them as they entered their professional athletic careers? Or are we to assume that since they were “collegiate athletes” they understand how to manage these situations by osmosis?
Hmmmm….let’s see. A large percentage of professional athletes come from nothing and have no experience with money,  money management or how to handle the personal albatross that comes with wealth and fame. Honestly, fame isn’t that big of a deal since most athletes who play at a high level have a level of celebrity that follows them…but once you add money, wealth, greenbacks, paper, green, cash, grip, ducketts, stacks, riches, squilla, dough, ends, flow or whatever your designation for lots of money might be, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect with how to handle the pressure associated with the change.
Everyone… I mean EVERYONE wants a piece of you. Agents, financial planners, investment companies, family members, friends, gold diggers are all in line to get their “fair share” of what these athletes have worked tirelessly for. What’s worse they stand in the proverbial line with a sense of entitlement… as if these athletes actually owe them something! Son of a… can you imagine the nerve? What if your parents decided they were entitled to a percentage of your $50k/year job? How would that go over?
I keep revisiting our institutions of higher education and wondering how much they really educate student-athletes beyond the specific sport they play. No, I’m not suggesting it’s the sole responsibility of colleges and universities to make athletes aware of the wiles that await them upon their exit from the isolation of the NCAA…but what I am suggesting is (again) a more proactive approach to better equipping them to handle what could happen.  
Look…it’s no one’s responsibility to manage your money. What you earn is what you should protect right? As I said before the expectation is that these kids (usually 20-22 years old) are supposed to manage funds that mount to what many of us will never earn in a lifetime. Seems almost impossible... Honestly would you expect a podiatrist to perform open heart surgery…?

Probably not.
Just sayin…

4 comments:

  1. You're right Oscar, these athletes don't owe the money they earn to anybody. I mean, you list people like agents -- they are entitled to a cut, but that's part of their job, and the athletes representation.

    However, for all of the other friends, families, gold-diggers, it is a completely different story. While an athlete may need to show some appreciation for help and guidance along the way, giving away large amounts of money is not the answer. They can very well get them a card, write them a nice personal letter, and take them out to a nice dinner -- boom, done.

    Personally, while I think colleges and universities that regularly produce high-profile athletes do absolutely have a responsibility to better prepare these men to handle success, fame, and prosperity, the professional leagues themselves need to do a better job.

    Much gets talked about the NFL rookie symposium which attempts to do this each year, but do you really think these players learn those lessons in a single weekend? More guidance programs need to be provided by professional organizations, IMO.

    Additionally, most of the blame falls on players themselves. While certainly granting money to the people who ask (that's essentially what it is, grants, not loans) is part of the problem, most of it is ridiculous overspending on everything from cars to booze and gambling. Show some moderation, responsibility, and self-control, please.

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  2. Very well said Ty- Yes, I agree that the bulk of responsibility falls on the shoulders of the athletes. That said there should be some "educational processes" to lend some proactive assistance before it gets to the point of overspending and loss of self-restraint.

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  3. Hi, another perspective is the obligation of parents to their children. I've watched the NFL draft on television with my son, and who is sitting next to these up and coming professional athletes? Momma. Sometimes dad, but ALWAYS momma. And who is hanging around the coaches doors while these athletes are in high school? More dads here than moms, but again a parent. And who is hauling these athletes to Junior All American and Pop Warner football games, Little League baseball games and NJB basketball games, watching and coaching and encouraging and buying private lessons? Mom and Dad, of course. So as these kids become adults, for those athletes who continue to excel, why are not the parents preparing them for the success that you are talking about? And if the parents don't know how to manage money or people or any of the attendant responsibilities of a professional athlete, why are they not at least advising their "child" that they will encounter these issues and help them get the education and training to deal with these issues. I HATE to think that not only are parents willing to live virtually through their child-athletes' success (you know, the parent who re-lives his or her glory days through their child's sports accomplishments), but that they actually feel entitled to the rewards of their child's success. If a parent is grooming their child-athlete for a successful collegiate and possible professional career in sports, shouldn't they also be helping to prepare that (adult) child for the rewards of their success, rather than becoming one of the vultures?

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    1. Claudia,

      I agree, but that is a near-impossible thing to change. It's hard enough to establish a way of educating these young athletes on how to handle future successes, educating their parents is even another step removed from that.

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