Who's Fault Is It Anyway?
Money comes and money goes right? And when money goes it can really go, fast.
Just ask Antoine Walker, Lenny Dykstra, Johnny Unitas, Andre Rison, Vin Baker, Terrell Owens, and the countless other former professional athletes who have gone broke, despite earning millions of dollars over their athletic careers.
The list goes on and on, but are all of these athletes really to blame for every single dollar that they lost?
I don't think so.
I believe that a lot of factors play a part in each instance, but almost every athlete's story as to why they went broke has one element in common.
"For me, this could have ended most likely in jail or death. That’s how these stories usually end,” -Vin Baker
Regardless of whether you recognize it or not, you are a product of your environment. All of us are in some way.
What you see, what you hear, and who you grow up around, directly influences you in ways that, subconsciously, you might not even recognize on a day-to-day basis.
You have to take into account that some of these professional athletes that we see in the NFL & NBA are from low socioeconomic, and impoverished areas where they hardly had any structure, guidance or upstanding role models.
Even if they didn't come from these type of backgrounds, there really weren't people around them who educated them about finances, taxes, what to do with a paycheck, deductions, banking, or budgeting.
I'm willing to bet it wasn't necessarily taught in your home and I know it damn sure wasn't taught in school. I don't believe in making excuses for anyone or anything, but how can you possibly expect someone to do something the right way if they've never seen before, or know where to go to learn it?
But The Actual Truth Is...
Many times what has happened in the past is that when these young players enter these professional leagues, they are set up with a financial advisor who is appointed or affiliated with their agent. They hardly know or even began to build a relationship with this financial advisor, and this advisor is mainly responsible every dollar that they receive from their paychecks.
Or on the other hand, they have someone in their immediate circle, handle their money or become their business manager because they "trust" them. The problem is that though they might trust them, more times than not, this person is unfit and unqualified to handle this job.
The truth is athletes simply aren't taught the process.
They don't know where their money is going or what it supposed to be done with their money. They have no idea about taxes or how much they're truly making at the end of the day. In some cases, all they are given is a spending limit and a caution to "don't f*** it all up," if that.
This narrative is shifting though as more attention has been brought to negligent advisors and others who try to take advantage of these superstar athletes.
I really think that athletes go broke mainly due to a lack of education and guidance more than anything else that people allude to.
Different aspects are definitely significant as I said before, but the simple miseducation of how money works might be the most prevalent factor in any situation.
A lot of players are in their early 20s when they stumble upon millions of dollars, but there have been others who have also received the same amount at that young of an age and have managed it very well.
The lack of financial knowledge and youth combined is just a recipe for financial ruin. With all of this time and freedom, many athletes think "why not spend what I've earned?"
I mean I get it. I'm not naive to the fact they have put in the work for years and want to reap the fruits of their labor. Why not give all their boys and their family the life that they all have dreamed of when they were coming up?
Between the entourages, bandwagon fans, and family members trying to get a piece of the pie, many athletes can also start to feel guilt and pressure and feel that since they are the superstar athlete, they can take care of everyone. The reality is that isn't practical by any means. At the end of the day, the superstar athlete is the one who suffers the most if and when things go south.
Michael Carter Williams, who is currently a professional basketball player in the NBA, was drafted in the first-round in 2013. In his rookie season, he very quickly emerged as one of the favorites to win NBA Rookie of the Year and gives a lot of credit for his success to his mom Mandy Carter-Zegarowski, who was a former player and coach herself.
From the start, Carter-Zegarowski had a plan in place for Carter-Williams' financials, as well. She told her son that he wasn't able to touch any of the $4.5 million he was guaranteed over those next two years.
For the first several years of his NBA career, he lived on his endorsement deals while his salary from the Philadelphia Sixers was deposited into a trust that he wasn't able to access for three years.
This type of financial guidance and management is something that is rarely found in the NBA, let alone professional sports. Not many athletes have someone that they can trust and who they know is capable of controlling and regulating their salaries to this extent.
So where do athletes turn if they don't have someone like this in their corner?
As an athlete, it is absolutely imperative to have someone help you deal with your money the right way or at least give you the guidance to do it yourself. If you absolutely can't find someone to help you, then it is up to you to take some initiative and teach yourself about money and how it works. If you don't, then you are rolling the dice on your future.
But how much do these other factors play a part in an athlete's financial demise? Is race, divorce, multiple children and lavish spending all major components in why this happens repeatedly to many athletes?
Of course these all matter in some way, shape or form, but I don't think they are more crucial than not having the knowledge to understand how much money you really make and what you can do with it that helps you sustain it in the long run.
All of these things do matter in the financial collapse of the many professional athletes throughout the years. But at the end of the day, it all starts and ends with the knowledge and the wisdom that all athletes have to possess when they get to this level if they want to avoid going broke.
From what I can remember at a young age, Antoine Walker was a hell of a player.
The clutch three-pointers, the shimmy dance, and the smooth post footwork. He was the other number '8' besides Kobe Bryant. He spent major of his playing career with the Boston Celtics and even won a championship in 2006 with the Miami Heat.
Scoring over 15,000 points in his NBA career, many would think that he left his mark on the NBA and that he would be remembered for having a pretty illustrious basketball career. Sadly, in 2010 just two years after announcing his retirement, he was bankrupt.
$108 million over his NBA career was now gone.
This is Antoine Walker's legacy now. Crawling his way out of debt, and cleaning up his financial mess. In 2013, he finally became debt-free but if you google his name, you'll just come across a myriad of articles and stories of how he went bankrupt and lost it all.
Though he isn't the only one, he is definitely one of the most notable athletes to end their career this way. In a USA Today article, he quotes:
"In the process of taking care of (friends and family) and myself and creating a lifestyle for myself, seven years into my career I decided I wanted to venture off into real estate...Eventually, four years down the line, it ended up going bad. The recession hit, 2007, 2008. ... The downfall, the mistake that I made, was being the personal guarantor of the real estate company and putting up my personal financial portfolio in order to get these loans and this money."
Years later after pulling himself out of this hole, Antoine Walker became an analyst for SEC Network and also a consultant to Morgan Stanley Global Sports and Entertainment, where he tries to help young athletes from falling victim to the circumstances that he once did.
Though it may sound bad and counterintuitive, I think that Antoine Walker and some these other athletes actually need to go broke so that other athletes can see and hear these stories in order to not make the same mistakes.
Many times when you see an example first-hand and hear it directly from the source, you realize that no matter how high up and on top of the world you might be or feel, it can still all come crashing down and you can lose it all.
Hopefully, we can continue pushing the message in the athletic community, educating these athletes and showing this reality to help others not make the same mistakes as the ones who came before.
Malcolm Lemmons is an athlete turned entrepreneur, author, and speaker. He focuses on helping athletes brand themselves to prepare for life after sports. To check out more from Malcolm, visit his website at www.malcolmlemmons.com or connect with him on Twitter & Instagram