An observation from 25 years of experience:
1) Gross vs. net: It never fails; when my clients get their first NFL check they call me and say something is wrong. They are floored by how much is taken out for taxes and other deductions. Unfortunately, the shock doesn’t resonate long enough. I would say 90% of players have some type of direct deposit or their check gets mailed to their investment advisor and the players never see the net amount. Thus, they think they always are making more money (in gross numbers) than they actually are.
2) It comes too easy and too fast: First it’s a college scholarship, cash from uncles during college, advances and stipends from agents and financial advisors. A large signing bonus before the first snap in camp and making a team. When money comes fast and easy for a young man the assumption is life will always be that way. Players can easily develop a false sense of value of themselves. Many think that starting a profitable business or landing a high paying six-figure cushy job will be easy after football. Why not, everything else came easy right? Wrong! Players have a rude awaking when they can't even land a coaching job after their career ends and don’t properly prepare for starting a second career.
3) The cost of vanity: I tell my friends that if I opened a specialized rim shop serving pro athletes, instead of being an agent, I would be a rich man. The same goes for custom jewelry. Unfortunately, I noticed that many athletes associate wealth with material possession. So they feel like the more they have, the richer they are. I would say 90% of all athletes are getting ripped off on auto and jewelry purchases. I had one client have a watch appraised that he thought was worth over the $20,000 that he paid for it. The appraiser valued it at $1,500. The diamonds he thought he had on the watch weren’t real. I did it to teach him a lesson. The obsession to have the latest and greatest toys, the biggest house, the newest car(s) and most expensive clothes is probably the number one wealth killer for professional athletes. As I always say, “rich people have things, wealthy people have investments”.
4) Weak financial counsel: What I mean by this is that most financial advisors, accountants and confidants I met and observed over the years don’t have the fortitude to stand up to their clients in fear of losing them. If they ride their clients too hard about spending the athlete may just fire him or her. So they tend not to make the hard calls and put their foot down on spending patterns. For many consultants, it’s a race to invest the players’ assets before they spend it. Consultants who take their time to educate, communicate and have a way of helping players control spending get an A+ in my book but they are few and far between.
5) Bad investments: There are some intelligent football players who made some really bad investments. The problem is usually compounded when they make a big bet with the majority of their savings on real estate or a business. In addition, many of them sign personal guarantees on loan deals in addition to the investment.
6) Guilt and the family: It’s amazing the number of NFL players who come from single parent homes. Many grew up with the help of the entire extended family, who is usually poor. When all resources are shared in helping one another, things are copasetic. However, when the athlete starts earning there is a feeling of guilt and a desire to help those who helped him. Unfortunately, it’s never just a one-time event. Once the pipeline of fiscal aid is spread about it’s hard to turn the faucet off. It’s difficult to say “no” to the brother who is about to lose his house or the uncle who is behind on the car payment. There are ways to help the family but there is usually not a realistic plan in place to do so. I have a client who paid off his parent’s home loan of $200,000 to find out two years later they refinanced and borrowed $150,000 against the house that was once free and clear of any debt. Of course they got behind again in their payments and had little to show for the $150,000 they spent. And of course, my client was upset but he paid it off as well. After all, it's mom and dad.
7) A few more years: Just ask any retired player if he thought he would play at least one or two more years and I promise you 90% would say “yes”. In thinking they will play a few more years they feel more money will come that they have earmarked to save.
8) Divorce: 50% gone! When a player retires he goes from having a structured environment (which he has had his whole life), status, fame and a steady income, to trying to figure out how to add value to the household that worked around him and his routine for the last several years. He will struggle with developing a role in his own family, the workplace and society. A lot of athletes get depressed and a near majority of them hideout in a bottle and/or on the golf course. No longer the breadwinner, many wives of NFL players have told me they feel like their husband is another child they have to take care of. Many of these situations end in divorces with no prenuptial in place.
9) Living above their means: I constantly remind my players that their peers are the people that they graduated college with not the guys in the locker room. Any amount of monies made above your peers should be saved, invested and allocated for future needs. It’s okay to live in apartment for three years before buying a house and two cars. However, the locker room becomes the peer group and once many athletes taste the sweet life it’s difficult to go backwards.
10) Keeping up with the vets: One phenomenon that hits most rookies is the desire to keep up with the vets. They see how the vets live and usually emulate their life styles. Many vets are into their second contract; usually a large one, but the rooks feel like they need to drive the same cars, wear the same clothes and own similar jewelry. Making all the classic mistakes listed above starts the player off by borrowing from the following year. Once this pattern starts its hard to stop. Many players feel they will get ahead on their next deal that for many may never come. For others, when the next deal does come the degree of spending just increases. One of my former clients just told me his buddy owns a Bentley dealership (in a southeast city) and four NFL players from his market have pre-ordered $350,000 cars.
These ten reasons why players go broke are indeed elementary and the only thing that can curtail the pattern is on going education, intervention, and constant counseling of basic life skills.
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Jack Bechta is one of the most respected agents in the NFL and has represented players for more than two decades.