Fiscal Ballers 1: Playing Defense on Finance for Those Cursed with Too Much, Too Soon


First in a series. Sure, the hit HBO show Ballers on life after football -- starring none other than a super suave Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson -- is dripping with sex, sun and swag. But the real story behind the story is about finances and the show gets it right on the money. This post, we offer up some Ballers-inspired cautionary notes for younger people hit with windfalls funding lifestyles that are, surprise! not going to last forever.

I watch a lot of football but not for the reasons you may think. I'm also watching a lot of the terrific HBO show Ballers lately and not for the reasons you may think either. The premise is pretty great; a retired pro football player played by Dwayne Johnson has reinvented himself as a financial manager.

As is happens, my father is a retired pro football player (Mike Rae, quarterback for the Super Bowl Champion Oakland Raiders back in the day, not to mention the QB for the National Champions USC Trojans at the Rose Bowl) and I myself am a financial planner. So this places me in a pretty excellent position to analyze the former in terms of the latter.

Son of a gun
When my dad retired, he was younger than I am now by two years. He'd had a good run and his career lasted nearly three times the NFL average of four years. In the 70s and 80s when he played, the money was nothing like it is now; we lived a comfortable, upper middle class life in Orange Country. Still, I distinctly remember that the transition going from a hot ticket, pro athlete used to a relative life of luxury into a regular working nine-to-five Joe on a budget was not without stress. Watching this influenced me profoundly, I see that now, and influenced my choice of profession as a financial planner.

Sobering truths
In February of this year, writer Leigh Steinberg wrote an excellent post for leading with the fact that 80% of NFL players go completely broke their first three years out of the League. More recently, we read that the legendary William 'Refrigerator' Perry of Chicago Bears fame is auctioning off his Super Bowl XX ring - he'd already sold another, his Super Bowl -- one in 2001 - because he needs the money to cover healthcare expenses.

(Auctioning off the bling isn't a new phenomenon, by the way. Back in the 80s, Al Davis, the then-principle owner and manager of the Oakland Raiders, had a standing offer to players going broke to buy up their Super Bowl rings so they wouldn't flood the market).

Over at the NBA, former All-Star Vin Baker, who made a staggering $97 million during a 13-season career, is now working at a Starbucks in Rhode Island. So what gives? When the Refrigerator's cupboard is so bare he's forced to sell off his mementoes or a former gazillionaire power forward is your local barrista, something is amiss.

But this phenomenon of 'here today, gone tomorrow' of the gifted and youthful super rich (and soon to be not-so-young and super broke) isn't restricted to just pro athletes. If you live in cities like L.A., New York or Miami, you see first hand that they're not only ones who burn through their money like there's no tomorrow.

Whether you're a star athlete, musician, actor, tech wizard, entrepreneur or heiress, you are vulnerable. Your good times will end unless you employ a savvy, ethical and experienced financial planner NOW who knows how to work the long game. Why? Because with a few notable exceptions, the talent, skills, timing and luck that enabled you to make the big bucks in the first place are not the same ones that it takes to hang onto them.

Most of us mere mortals have trouble saving for retirement over a 40+ year working career. So what are the chances of a 22-year old star athlete - who's basically been removed from real world fiscal concerns since adolescence - saving enough over a four-year career (the average duration of a pro footballer's time in the big time) to live comfortably for the rest of his life? I'll make the call here and say not very likely.

Mother knew best

I remember my mom telling me stories of being the 'old' wife when my dad was on the Raiders. She was 26. Perhaps it was her 'advanced' age but let me tell you, she was an amazing money manager. Luckily, I was blessed with a good head on my shoulders and the knowledge and drive to make money, and make that money work for me and I'd like to think I've inherited that from her. Consequently as a family we escaped the financial ruin that I'm sure befell many of my dad's teammates over the years.

Shout out to Rashard Mendenhall

Without question Ballers is made with some of the best writing, acting, producing and directing in the business. One such talent is the former NFL player Rashard Mendenhall who defied the odds of post-retirement financial ruin by keeping his eyes open and running his life on his own terms. He now works as one of the show's writers. I'm sure a lot of the spot-on authentic flavor and details come from him.

I can't tell you how impressed I was with his own HuffPo blog when he wrote,

"I wasn't supposed to walk away from the NFL, but I did. I wasn't supposed to be writing television, but I am. I'm supposed to be lost after football. I'm not. I've reinvented myself. This is my first transformation. I'm supposed to be broke right now, or maybe the statistics say five years from now. Either way, I'm not even close. I'm not supposed to be anything but a football player. But really, I'm just a guy who used to play football. There's a reason I'm doing this."

So listen up. Give the man a cheer and the next round's on me.

Next up
In a future post coming soon, we'll take a look how Ballers depicts the life of a professional financial planner which, trust me, isn't quite as interesting as it's portrayed on the show. Still, there are plenty of lessons to be had here as to what to look for when choosing a financial planner for yourself, for good and for ill. Also in the pipeline is another Ballers-inspired post on the specific money mistakes each player - RIP Rod, Ricky, Charles and Vernon - is making and how I, as their financial planner, would get them on the road to fiscal responsibility and security were they to sign on as my clients.

DAVID RAE, CFP®, AIF® is a Los Angeles-based retirement planning specialist with Trilogy Financial Services, a firm managing over $3 billion of client assets. He has been helping people reach their financial goals for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter @davidraecfp on Facebook or via his website,


Securities and advisory services offered through National Planning Corporation (NPC), Member FINRA, SIPC, a Registered Investment Advisor. Trilogy and NPC are separate and unrelated entities.