“Mo money, mo’ problems”. These words rapped by the late Notorious B..I.G. come to me when reading a 2009 Sports Illustrated article which states that 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress by the time they have been retired for two years and within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.
Why is this happening?
Imagine being 20, 21 or 22 and being handed $30, $50 or even $100 million? Throw in your background of poverty and the realization that the dreams you had of the “things” you wanted now can come true. You have, at least temporarily, unlimited resources at your disposal all because of what you can do with a ball. That’s overwhelming to think about!
A recent documentary called Broke aired on ESPN as a part of their “30 for 30” series. This discussed and provided an in-depth look at this problem through the eyes of former professional athletes Bernie Kosa, Andre Risen and Cliff Floyd.
As I listened to the stories and the sizes of the contracts I was saddened but not surprised. The issue is not a racial one as much as it is a socio-economic one. Many athletes come from poorer backgrounds with little or limited financial education when they are handed big multi-million dollar professional contracts. Add to that ego, the spirit of competition and the delusion that the money will never run out and you have the perfect storm for financial distress.
While watching and listening to the stories, I began to see a pattern and understand the dynamics of this problem. Of the professional athletes, NFL players spend the most. What’s interesting is that they are also the least paid among pro players and the least seen among fans while playing the game. Also interesting is the crossover of athletes to entertainers. Now more than ever we see athletes in movies and television with lucrative endorsement deals. They have become more than athletes, they are brands and capitalizing on that is the American way. The “one-up-manship” among players is also demanding. Locker room peer pressure to have the best, get the latest and be the most impressive is really important to young players. I understand the instant need to splurge. In fact I think it’s healthy. However, what I’m seeing is that these “things” have come to define them. Somehow they either never got or missed the message that the most important things in life aren’t things.
We also have to look at our contribution to the problem. We continue to elevate and worship athletes that only feed the beast of the over-inflated ego, the demon of competition and the arrogant ignorance of youth that tells them they’ve got it all figured out. In the worst economic times since the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of people poured into stores to get the new Jordan sneakers, and I suspect many more will do the same to get the new LeBron James sneakers.
While we take a judgmental finger to the professional sports organizations, it should be noted that many and/or most provide some financial education, but by then it’s almost too late. In addition, how often do we “regular people” live and spend beyond our means? We have become a nation of spenders, and while we look at athletes trying to understand this plight, if we take an honest assessment of our own spending it should come as no surprise.
The final element as we look at players and their money is one that is often overlooked, but in many ways lies the root of this problem. A skilled player with a multi-million dollar contract does not a man of integrity make. As the contracts get bigger so has the egos and the depraved indifference to accountability, responsibility and fidelity. Tiger Woods, Evander Holyfield, Michael Vick, Mike Tyson, Darryl Strawberry —the list goes on and on of professional athletes who made money their god and fall victim to its false promises of invincibility and never-ending success.
While I am reminded of that biblical scripture which states, “…for the love of money is the root of evil”, I am even more reminded of the Proverb which states, “A fool and his money shall soon part.”
Your Jersey Girlfriend,