Sunday, November 11, 2012

Professional athletes and their money ~ ESPN 30 for 30's "Broke"

Have you seen the ESPN 30 for 30 film "Broke"?  I saw it last week and it started to jog my memory.  Back when I was in the NBA as a WAG, I saw and heard plenty of things that reminded me of the documentary...  Here are a my thoughts.

Ever been to a house where there are checks for $30 THOUSAND dollars sitting in an ashtray?  Yes, checks for $30 THOUSAND dollars just sitting --- getting stale.  I have.

Ever talked to someone who never looked at their phone bill, yet continued to place long distance and international calls.  Home phone bills for several hundred dollars weren't uncommon, until I switched to the "dime a minute".

Ever taught someone in their mid 20s, who makes millions of dollars, how to write a check?  I have.

Ever heard someone pitch the idea of investing in a movie theatre?  I have and might even have the prospectus or business plan sitting in a box somewhere. 

Ever heard someone tell you that he's going to go look at Hummers, only to get a phone call that he bought a new Hummer only an hour later? 

Ever have your mailbox flooded with tax paperwork in the months leading to the tax deadline?  Professional athletes pay taxes in all the states they play in.  To me, that's no secret, but for the general population this may be news.

I've been there and seen/heard all of it, and it's the norm.  That's just what happens in the league.

I've seen lesser paid teammates' WAGS buy up labels and carry bags with THOUSANDS of dollars in merchandise daily/weekly.  One of the WAGS used to spend so much money, that it was unreal to the rest of us women in the family lounge.  It's no secret, on a team, as to who is making what.  Athletes' salaries are more or less public, so when a rookie's WAG is spending money like it's going out of style, you know there's trouble ahead.  No one said a thing, because frankly it wasn't our business.  Incidentally, this particular athlete was a good guy personality-wise, but he ran into other financial and legal problems, after he left the league.  Tragically, he didn't last long in the league and actually died last year (i.e. age 34).

Some athletes save their per diem money in a jar.  If I remember correctly, in the late 90s-early 200s, per diem was $92.  That money adds up if you save it.  Then again, all money adds up if you save it...  There was one athlete I knew who saved his per diem money and lived a no frills lifestyle.  He didn't last very long in the league either.  He played a little more than 40 games in the NBA before heading overseas.  Last I checked, he became a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia so he could play as a European.  Do you know where Macedonia is?  Neither do I...

That's the thing.  Many of the guys come from college and they and their parents think that their professional careers will be long.  It's a dream.  I don't care how good you were in college.  Ok, maybe I care a little bit.  However, if you're vying for a spot on the team that's being held by a highly paid veteran, you're probably not going to get any meaningful playing time, regardless what sport you're playing.  Don't believe me?  Who's Alex Rodriguez's back up?  Who's Aaron Rodgers' back up?  That's right.  You don't know.  If you don't get meaningful playing time, you're not going to get re-signed, and if you don't get re-signed, you're OUT.

Guaranteed money isn't a given in all the professional sports.  While you can "bank on" checks coming in if you play in the NBA or MLB, money isn't guaranteed in the NFL.  In a city with all 3 sports, it was interesting to see how people spent their money.  When I was a WAG, I'm pretty sure that my player was the one of the top 3 highest paid players in the city, if not the highest at one point.  We lived normal lives, and when I say "normal" it was as normal as possible.

We were in a mid-market city and we lived reasonably, aside from the Hummer, there were really no lavish purchases and concerns (i.e. from a longevity standpoint) that the money would run out.  The focus wasn't on money, and in part, I think it was because of the values that were instilled from our parents.  The focus was on the game, his career, and winning.  Materiality wasn't an issue, because he had nothing to prove off the court.  His esteem came from his numbers, the team's performance, and let's face it -- numbers speak for themselves.

Money affords you access and more choice.  These are luxuries that you can indulge in easily as an athlete, since you're usually recognizable and people expect you to act, look, and spend a certain way.  I watched shows like "MTV Cribs" and used to laugh.  I often pitched a show called "Repo" (i.e. as in repossessed) because it doesn't take a "math major" to realize that people are spending themselves into very deep holes.

Agents talk.  They talk about their other clients, and you hear how players are going to have to "play until they die" to pay for all of their cars, kids, and houses.  That particular statement was made about a basketball player, who was a college phenom, but after 12 years in the NBA, can't find a team who wants him.  As he waits to see if he'll get picked up this season, he's turning down offers overseas.

It's no secret that a career in professional sports can be shortened with an injury.  Career lengths depend on so many factors: the sport, position, minutes, fate, etc. Remember Orlando Brown?  I can't say a thing about his financial situation, but who would've guessed that his career would be so affected by being hit in the eye by a penalty marker? Tragically, he died last year also (i.e. age 40).

Don't even start me on lockouts.  Depending on the athlete's spending, lockouts hurt.  Just like some people in the "regular" workforce, some athletes live paycheck to paycheck.

Gambling.  Yes, I've gambled with many current and former athletes in Las Vegas and the Bahamas.  I've seen guys spread hundreds of dollars on the craps table and I've seen thousands all being risked with a roll of the dice.  Easy come, easy go...

Women.  Like with money, they're easy come, easy go.  Some athletes do find love.  Others are picked apart by vultures looking to win the lottery.  You know the expression, "No money, no honey".  Trust me.  It's true for some of these guys.  If they weren't perceived as having money to blow, they'd be a lone wolves.  It's difficult for athletes to trust, since they are targeted by so many different people.  It's no wonder they hold onto their high school/college girlfriends for so long (i.e. even though they cheat left and right).  I know a woman who dated one guy on a team for years, only to marry a different, higher paid teammate later on.  Awesome, right?

House.  When I was a WAG, we were house hunting and learned about a 2nd round pick in the 1999 NBA draft.  His career was unexciting to say the least.  The ONLY reason I know his name is because he was building a house down the street from where I used to live.  Granted the house I lived in as a WAG was right on the water (i.e. Lake Erie) and he chose to build there too.  Another Google search showed me that he made 50 cents on the dollar (i.e. compared to my player) and his house was appraised at double the amount of where I used to live. Hmmm.  Granted we're talking approximately 10 million v 5 million, etc. and I'm not one to tell people how to spend their money, but it looks interesting to say the least...  I hope he's been smart with his money, now that he's out of the league.

Oh, there are so many stories I could tell about my years as a WAG and as I'm still in the "circle of trust" new stories are shared all the time, but I think I've said enough.

All the best to everyone in professional sports.  My advice to all professional athletes:
  • Review your bills.  Don't use your agent as your financial advisor.  That's not what his 3% is for.  Let your agent negotiate your contract (i.e. if you even need him for that).  Let's face it, unless you're a mid-range salary guy, you can probably determine your own value within the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) salary guidelines).
  • To quote Michael Jackson, "Don't go around breaking young girls' hearts."
  • Learn to save.  Your career isn't going to last forever.  You need to plan for your retirement.  
Professional athletes worked so hard to realize their dreams of playing professional sports, that they should want to preserve their legacies.  They need to assert themselves, be educated, and tell people "NO" when they're asked for money.  There's nothing wrong with telling people "NO".  If you're a professional athlete you need to realize that it's your money.  You earned it, and it's not going to last forever.

Below is an infographic I received from Jen Rhee.  Periodically, I receive these images from and place them in my blog if they resonate.  Enjoy.

 Benched and Broke Infographic


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