As deals go, it’s neither new nor complex.
A sports agent lands a client and then recommends a financial adviser. Or vice versa. The relationship between the agent/adviser extends through the years, through the rosters. Maybe they recruit together. Maybe they just vouch for “their guy.” Maybe there are kickbacks. Maybe there is the expectation of future swaps.
However it goes down in the end a player, often poorly prepared by a college sports system focused on eligibility and not education, often from a family background short on savings accounts let alone mortgages and stock portfolios, thinks he has two sets of independent, trustworthy eyes on his money. Instead he has one.
Even if nobody aims to rip him off, to risk his money, the fiduciary responsibility is corrupted, the honesty lost, the motives open to question.
Whether this is what was pulled on Terrell Owens by his former agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and the financial adviser he recommended T.O. sign with, Jeff Rubin, is a matter for investigators and civil courts.
Yahoo! Sports reported Tuesday that the NFLPA is looking into the Rosenhaus-Rubin relationship after widespread player losses. Rosenhaus denied wrongdoing. Rubin declined comment.
Owens just knows he’s 38, perhaps headed toward bankruptcy and one of the reasons his approximately $80 million in NFL earnings has all but vanished is because bad deals and poor oversight from an agent-financial adviser team.
Or put it this way: how could Owens, late in his career, wind up throwing a couple of his last million dollars at a risky, rural Alabama bingo parlor project?
Then again, how could 34 other athletes, 18 of them Rosenhaus’ clients, get roped in for what bankruptcy filings indicate could be a combined $43.6 million?
“As a player without much understanding of the financial realm, we’re easy prey,” Owens told Yahoo! Sports. “How do you decipher who’s good and who’s bad? For someone to work as hard for their money as we do, to have it taken away by people we trust, who we find out later had other motives, it’s a sick feeling.”
As sympathetic victims go, T.O. isn’t much. He has four kids (and four monthly paternity payments) from four women, houses all over the place and a well-earned reputation as a high-maintenance star.
It’d be a bigger surprise if T.O. turned out to be a fiscally conservative saver, financially set for life rather than a guy nearly busted out less than two years from his last NFL reception. That much he gets.
“Some of this is my fault,” Owens says, “because I had ultimate responsibility for my finances.”
Many fans will laugh at Owens’ situation. Or they’ll shake their head in disgust. Or perhaps use his failure to prop up their own self worth – they may never have been able to blow past a cornerback like T.O., but if they could they sure wouldn’t have blown through money like him.
That’s the fans’ right. They owe Owens nothing.
It’s so many others that owe if not him, then the next him. At least he’s standing up and explaining his own embarrassment, even speaking both formally and privately to young players about his experience.
And again, this isn’t a new deal, or one where suspicions center solely on Rosenhaus and Rubin. This is how the game is played, an industry with the same old agents and the same old financial advisers but an endless crop of brand new millionaires. It’s a world where access to the young, rich and naïve is coveted whether you’re a real estate agent or a jeweler or a luxury car dealer.
(Hint for a player: if your agent drives an outrageously expensive sports car, and recommends you buy from the same dealer, his “guy,” consider the possibility the agent is getting a deal on his ride in exchange for bringing in your full-price self. Really, just consider the possibility of it.)
“We recommend you use Jeff,” Owens said Rosenhaus had told him. “ 'He handles our clients. We trust him.’ I never knew who Jeff Rubin was before Drew introduced me to him. Drew was supposed to be the best agent.”
At one point, as Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole and Rand Getlin reported, Rosenhaus and Rubin shared at least 26 clients.
A 2009 Sports Illustrated study found that two years after retirement, “78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.” It was just the latest in a long line of similar findings through the decades.
The NCAA focuses on “agents,” so they get the boldest of headlines and blackest of eyes. In truth, it’s just a catchall phrase. The traditional sports agent isn’t the only one recruiting unpaid college stars, it’s the financial guys too, or the workout gurus, or an old coach, or a guy from around the way back home.
And whomever wins the trust, whomever gets the first signature, can dictate what is often an overwhelmed young man’s next three or four hires. And you’d be a trusting soul to believe something that valuable comes for free.
Yahoo! Sports Radio: Jason Cole on Drew Rosenhaus not receiving money from bingo venture]
This is the challenge for the union, who fights for the players to make the money and ought to fight just as hard for them to keep it. This is the challenge for the NFL, always image conscious, for whom there can be no positive to generations of ex-players that are broke.
The Rosenhaus-Rubin relation is being investigated by the NFLPA and it needs to be a thorough and serious one. So too does the approach to educating players about the system. Not just when they show up in the league, but when they’re promising high school and college prospects who need to hear some kind of message of caution before they sign.
Every player needs not just an agent and a financial adviser but an attorney, a third party who makes teaming up less likely (although not impossible). They need a union that investigates conflicts of interest more rigorously.
They also need the NFLPA to work to bring in more reputable faces, proven financial advisers from major firms who manage money well but aren’t interested or comfortable in the current shark-infested cesspool of client recruitment. They need to create an environment where players can meet advisers outside of some champagne room.
Look, these cases are complicated. The reporting delves into bankruptcy courts and depositions and agent-on-agent crime, lots of shouting and finger-pointing. Owens, again, isn’t an easy poster child for sympathy. There is only so much attention a deal like this is going to get, here at the start of the season.
And, of course a scandal involving the media-connected Rosenhaus is going to be ignored by some outlets that rely on him for scoops. That’s also part of the game.
It’s the union and the league that needs to simplify things, slow it down and explain it to young players who aren’t well versed in finances.
It’s that tandem that has to care about what the fans won’t, because it just goes on and on and on, a silent drain on too many athletes.
It’s the NFLPA and the NFL together that need to police the problem and then pound on the heads of the current and future Terrell Owens’ until at least some of naïveté is worn away, until some of that easy prey becomes a bit more difficult to snag.