For those of us who follow sports and the athletic realm, we were not surprised by ESPN’s “Broke,” a 30 for 30 special that delved into the psychology of competitive professional athletes who were great on the field but not great with their money.
The film special was particularly interesting and well done because it went beyond exploring the mere stereotypes of why some male athletes dwindle their money away. It let these men speak very candidly about what was going on in their minds and lives while playing in the field and playing with their money. It allowed former and current athletes to speak about why they spent their money in such careless manners, such as some simply enjoying the feeling of walking in a space and everyone knowing who they were and that they had money to spend. It involves a psychology of feeling good about yourself while spending money and feeling better than others.
Moreover, the special showed athletes who talked about not utilizing the tools available to help them gain a better grasp on how to handle their financials. From watching the special, it seems that it is only athletes in the NFL who have money troubles. Neverthless, the facts are clear: NBA contracts are mainly guaranteed and NFL contracts are not, so it seems “easier” for NBA players to not end up “broke.” But trust, they do. So, I had to go to the streets with this one and take the issues a step further, and talk to some folks. For privacy purposes, I have chosen to keep my sources anonymous (smile).
One current professional NBA player I spoke with said “the issue(s) are quite simple. People live beyond their means.” OK, this is true, but my question is this: Why? To me, the issues that surround athletes who go broke, bankrupt, or lose a fortune, are concerning and intriguing. For some, bad investments, bad management, and bad people are the reasons for their financial demise. For others, scare tactics and advice from others who have been through the same issues and profession, help mold how they choose to spend their money. “For me, coming in, I’ve always heard the stories about [dudes] going broke and that’s one of my biggest fears,” one current NFL player said.
Frequently, money issues come down to a matter of loyalty to others. “[Dudes try} to be too loyal to folks and feeling like they owe them [something]. And that was one of my things for a while. It was hard for me to say no to my people. I just got to the point like [forget it] I can’t go broke trying to help somebody else out,” the current NFL player continued to say. One’s loyalty to his family and/or others who have been around before an athlete makes it pro is very serious. Oftentimes, these young people come from lower-income families with dozens or more family members depending on them. Who does he choose to be loyal to or more loyal to? Are some more important than others? Yes, most of us would argue the parents are the most important, but what about an aunt who was there for him and that he talked to daily? Lines must be drawn and lines must be crossed, and as my anonymous friend told me: “no matter how much you do for people, they still ain’t gon’ be happy.” Where does this leave these athletes? Oftentimes, it leaves them stressed and making decisions in which their mind is telling them noooooooo, but their heart, their heart keeps telling them yessssssss…and then they make poor decisions.
Another issue that arises is the lack of education. It is about “learning how to handle wealth for not only a week, or a month, but for lifetime,” another current NFL player said. All of the money given to some athletes “distorts [their] perception on how to spend it,” he further said. In a sense, it is a lifestyle that most are not used to and only dream of. These men are usually the first people in their family with all this money and they are “thrust into adulthood while taking care of family and friends,” says a former NFL player. So, how are these guys to learn about how to spend their money? Especially when, as one guy put it, “other players don’t make it better sometimes. You see what they have and you want it.”
Now, let me clarify. I have not written this piece to portray athletes as victims. However, I want more people to understand and become aware of these issues because they are important to know and explore. For those interested, it helps so that we can better understand another piece of their lifestyle that is not always shown: the true mental anguish that some athletes go through when dealing with money. All that so many of us see are the glamorous aspects of having athlete money, and some people tend to focus solely on that. However, these guys are playing and fighting to keep and maintain their contracts, while oftentimes battling over money at home. “One of my people called [himself] mad at me about some money, talking about [he] knows [I] got at least $20 million in the bank.” Some people hear about the large contracts offered and accepted, but do not understand that these athletes must perform well to get some of it, and that they are constantly paying others to maintain it. This is not the same for everyone, but having a bunch of people in your ear about YOUR own money is not an ideal situation. And, although there are initiatives in place and several people for athletes to talk with regarding their money, these issues still persist and continue to be addressed. For these reasons, I have written this article and will continue to explore these issues. As a former athlete and one who enjoys sports, it sometimes bothers me when I read stories such as the recent one about Dallas Cowboys’ Tyron Smith and the severe legal battle he has been having with his family over money. He went so far as to have to file a protective order against his stepfather and mother. This is one of several unheard stories.
Last, and as I digress, I want to say that I think awareness is key. Awareness of who to have in your circle, who to trust, and especially self-awarenes. I am always saying that it is an acquired skill to know when to tell people “no.” Sometimes, people take for granted the importance of learning how to tell others, such as friends and family, “no.” It is something that must be obtained through practice and education, and it is generally not a pleasant thing to do, but it must be done at times. Let us all exercise some true discretion and self-awareness in our lives. The end…for now.
“I will never say that I know it all…but I will say it so good, that you’ll believe it anyway.”