Notes from a Finance Professor: Why Black Athletes Go Broke

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I recently noticed that my homeboy TJ Holmes at BET recently had a show about professional athletes who find their finances in the toilet.  I consider this to be an interesting and relevant topic, just the kind of thing that BET needs to show.  As a Finance Professor who’s been hanging around college campuses for over 20 years, I’ve seen a few things that I think might serve as some of the root causes that many black athletes go broke

Yes, we know some of the white guys go broke too, but I’m not talking to them right now.  Brother, I’m talking to you.  Based on my experience as a Finance guy, a former athlete and a black man, I can name at least five reasons that so many athletes end up right where they started:

1) A lack of education:  The saddest habit that some athletes have embraced is idea that being good at sports means that you don’t have to have a good education.  Guess what?  Most of the people who make the real money in the NBA and NFL are guys like my friend Billy Hunter, head of the NBA Players Association.  I spoke with Billy for a very long time before our Fatherhood panel in Harlem two weeks ago, and Billy made it abundantly clear that he made a lot more money with his law degree than he did by catching a football.  The old saying “a fool and his money will soon part ways” is quite accurate, as your Harvard educated attorney/business manager will keep making millions long after your knees wear out.

2) The arrogance and invincibility complex:   It’s easy to think that the next paycheck will be bigger than the last, or that your NFL career is going to last 40 years.  But the fact is that one day it’s all going to slow down and perhaps come to an end.  Just ask Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson….I mean Ochocinco….I mean Johnson….I mean Mr. Lozada.  When all you are is an athlete, you have little value to your overseers once you can no longer play.

3) A lack of discipline:  For all the brilliance and discipline I’ve seen displayed on the football field and basketball court, I don’t always see the same discipline in every area of the athlete’s life.  What young brothers need to realize is that there are basically four vices that lead to the downfall of nearly every great man in history:  women, drugs, alcohol and gambling.  If you are gluttonous and excessive in any of these four areas, you risk losing everything to a few poor mistakes.   I don’t have to mention many of the athletic tragedies that have occurred in recent weeks for you to understand what I’m talking about.

4) Sloppy family planning:  You think you”re the man because you can get any woman you want huh?  Well guess what brother?  The ladies want you too…In fact, they’re going to keep wanting a piece of you long after baby mama number four is raising your child and trying to get you sent to jail for not being able to pay child support.  I am an 18 year veteran of the Draconian child support system and I can say from first hand experience, you don’t want to go there.

5) Making it rain, popping bottles and whatever else 2Chainz told you to do in his last album:   I swear that if I write one more article about an athlete dying, getting arrested or doing something stupid at the club, outside the club or on the way home from the club, I’m going throw up on my computer screen.   There is no rule saying that every black man has to behave like a jackass on the weekends and drink until he loses control of his faculties.  Most stupid crimes that get people sent away for years are committed while under the influence.  Don’t throw it all away by following the crowd.

These are my perspectives, take em or leave em, but I know there is tremendous hope for black men.  For every Trinidad James or Jevon Belcher, there’s a Lupe Fiasco or Etan Thomas.  Smart brothers lead the way and people who choose to embrace the ignorance are the ones who end up telling their sons, “Don’t do what I did.”  Teach yourself, your kids and those you mentor that life is all about making good choices, having good values and being a good person.  There’s really no other way around it.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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