What We Know About Financial Education from Broke Athletes
By Dan Kadlec
February 8, 2017
With perhaps the greatest Super Bowl ever still top of mind, it is worth noting that some of the players in this game will be broke only a few years after they retire. The research on this is as solid as it is disturbing.
Some 16% of NFL players declare bankruptcy within 12 years of retirement, according to a study from the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University. One in six NFL players ends up filing for bankruptcy, the study found.
Sports Illustrated reported that an astounding 78% of professional football players go bankrupt or are under financial stress within two years of retiring. And this is not just a football problem. Some 60% of professional basketball players are in money trouble within five years of leaving the game, SI reported.
This probably won’t be a problem for Tom Brady and other mega stars with million-dollar smiles and who are widely recognized in public. But the rest are vulnerable.
Speaking before the Super Bowl, retired NFL linebacker Terry Crews, only half joking, advised players to seize this moment of fame and take off their helmets when possible so that the pubic would see their face—and they’d later have a career on TV or in the movies. Crews is among the fortunate ex-players. He’s had parts in movies and various TV shows, and is currently starring in the police sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
A cottage industry has blossomed around broke athletes, trying to reach them early with more practical advice than Crews offered. Morgan Stanley’s global sports and entertainment division has 82 specialized advisers and for motivation pays some broke stars to speak at its events. Some universities offer special financial education courses to their athletes.
So help is on the way. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, noted researchers Annamaria Lusardi and Colin Camerer assert that bankruptcy does not depend on how much an NFL player earned in his career or how long he played; higher income or longer careers seem to offer little protection against bankruptcy.
They offer three steps to long-term financial solvency. For financial educators, these steps have broad application. They are relevant to anyone that comes into a windfall and has little ability to earn large sums going forward—say, a lottery winner or other lump sum recipient from something like an insurance claim, or a divorce or other legal settlement:
Become financially literate That means getting exposed to the basics of credit, saving, compound growth, and budgets.
Learn to manage money Athletes are used to the kind of training that requires enormous discipline. Why not apply that to comprehensive money-management training?
Choose the right pay structure Look at the benefits of stretching out your income for many years, deferring salary or opting for monthly payments rather than a lump sum. Research has shown this kind of device works wonders for financial security.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with the idea behind Crews’ suggestion to take off your helmet. He was essentially advising players to build a personal brand while they were in the spotlight. A corollary for normal people: take advantage of the opportunities in front of you because they may not be there long.