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Players going broke: Who's at fault?

National Football Post

After watching the documentary “Broke” last night on ESPN, I got that sick feeling in my stomach that nothing is going to change for many NFL players. I do get a feeling players are becoming more aware of the trappings that lead them astray with their finances, but until there is an impactful life skills education program at an early age, the irresponsible spending, lack of fiscal discipline and the bad investments will continue.

On May 30th I wrote articled titled, “Ten reasons why NFL players go broke”. If you didn’t see “Broke” last night this article could have been an outline for the show.

The whole reason I got into the agent business is because I wanted to make a difference on the opportunity side, especially being a former financial advisor. I wanted to stay close to football and make a difference in both the on and off field picture, not just on the contract. However, when you are in the trenches with the players, our role of advisors can become full of conflicts, conundrums and liabilities. Many agents just choose to completely distance themselves from the money side and therefore can say they had absolutely no involvement when the money disappears.

In his younger days, retired client Packers CB Al Harris would get pissed at me when I questioned his spending habits. He would go weeks without talking to me if I called him out on something I thought was fiscally irresponsible. Then one day, out of the blue, he called me up just to say that he appreciated me. It was actually one of the best moments I ever had as an agent. Because after about seven years of badgering him, to a point he wanted to fire me, I finally got through, the switch went on and he reversed his bad habits in time to enjoy another seven years of prosperity. All agents walk a fine line in this area and find it tough to push too hard in fear of losing the client they worked so hard to get.

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Bernie Kosar, who played 12 seasons in the NFL, declared bankruptcy in 2009.

When I give presentations to new prospective clients and talk about the pitfalls and trappings of being an NFL player, I can see the interest wane. I sense that nobody wants to hear it nor get into prevention conversations and talk about the safeguards and disciplinary mechanisms that can help a player from not going broke. They’d rather hear about combine training, what round they are going in, scouting reports and endorsements. I try to emphasize that all those things are worthless if you can’t manage the pressures of prosperity.

Here are 5 ways a player can develop good habits for NOT GOING BROKE:

1) Live like an O-Lineman – O-linemen, as a group, are the richest guys in the NFL. If you want to save your money, live like these guys.

2) Pay your own Bills – To my own estimate, 85% of all NFL players have no idea what they are spending, don’t know how to balance their checkbook and think they have 25 to 50% more than they actually have.

3) Put a “NO Man” in your corner – Where there is fame and fortune, there are plenty of “Yes" men! Find a strong CPA, CFP or mentor who is not afraid to be tough on you.

4) Take pride and have fun in being frugal and understated - HOF CB Darrell Green of the Redskins used to buy old cars like Volkswagen Beetles to get back and forth from practice. He made it fun.

5) Lose the jewelry-  Big diamond studded earrings and large diamond studded watches and religious symbols are not attractive and are only appreciated by those who value material goods. They only serve as beacons for hanger-ons and are overly pretentious.

So who should take responsibility for helping athletes? Answer: Everybody! 

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Here’s how:

The NFL:

Revamp the rookie symposium. Make a real life “Broke” live to the players at the rookie symposium. Empower and equip the player development directors to have more power like an assistant head coach. Make his meetings mandatory with the ability to fine players. Make sure these individuals are qualified with fiscal skills. Many are not. Give players an option to take their monies over 12 months versus 17 weeks. Have a financial stress hot line and give them a test twice per year on their finances to catch the warning signs of going broke.

The NFLPA:

I’m sorry guys, but we still have a lot of work to do and you should bear the biggest responsibility. The financial advisory certification program is worthless. Two financial advisors, who recently steered millions of dollars of NFL players into a ponzi scheme and a failed investment in the southeast, weren’t even registered. Two very large agents represented the majority of those players. That should be looked into seriously!

Conversely, having financial advisors certified by the NFLPA gives players a false sense of security. I had a player call me the other day and actually say to me that the advisor he wants to go with was “endorsed by the union”. That’s obviously what the advisor told my client. We need more real world education and life skills programs that are ongoing, accessible and practical. Include parents and wives in any programs and processes.

The agents:

We need to get out of the way but yet speak up when we see the warning signs. Not all of us are qualified to screen, direct or steer our clients. Preach good habits and be a good example. Some agents/agencies need to stop the massive credit lines (100k to 500K opened the day after their last game), which tells a player its okay to start out with debt before they make a dime.

The teams/Coaches/Owners:

If you want to get more out of your players, invest into their basic life skills. Head coaches and owners can have a HUGE impact on players’ habits. They can help to shape a locker room culture of frugality, being understated and being professionals off the field. If your players are saving their money, have no financial stress and are being socially responsible, they will be more focused at the work place. The fact is that young players will emulate the habits of older players. Ban gambling on the planes and in the locker room (or at least put a ceiling on it). Send a sincere message backed by actions that you care what happens when they leave the building and when they leave the game. Include parents and wives in the process.

The bottom line is that it all begins and ends with the players. If you want to be a professional athlete, then be that, PROFESSIONAL! The word professional should mean you act professional and handle your business off the field with class and responsibility. The truth is that the people who really truly care about you don’t want you blowing your money, don’t want anything from you, and don’t want to be a apart of your entourage. Therefore, keep them around and get rid of the rest. If you don’t wake up now, you will be the star of “Broke II”.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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