Talk to the average African American male teenager, and he’ll say he wants to grow up to be a rapper or professional athlete. Most of these youngsters dream of landing a big contract, moving out of the ‘hood and buying mama a house and Lexus.
However, recent figures might want to make them think twice. According to a Sports Illustrated article, 78 percent of NFL players file for bankruptcy two years after retirement. In addition, 60 percent of NBA players are broke after they finish playing.
Los Angeles-area African Americans professionals who have worked along side pro athletes, say they have seen how easy it is for players to run through money. They offer advice on ways to protect assets.
Farrah Parker, is a L.A. image consultant, who worked alongside Shaquille O’Neil, Kobe Bryant, and Derek Fisher, when she was with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Public Relations Department.
Parker said that the biggest problem facing African American athletes is the lack of financial training and education. She said many players are simply not prepared to make the leap from a starving student to being a millionaire.
“Athletes who fall into financial despair are those who were not properly prepared for the new lifestyle,” Parker said. “These athletes must be reminded that their responsibility is not to their entire family and every friend who needs money. Instead, their commitment should be to themselves and immediate family, the latter of which even has limits. Just as players must be educated on the rules of the game, they also need to learn about interest rates, investments and how to delicately separate from parasitic family and friends.”
The image consultant said, “while it is always exciting and invigorating to make large purchases, do so cautiously and only after proper research. Professional sports checks are indeed large but, can dwindle quickly, when you ignore interest rates and live life without limits. Surround yourself with trustworthy and knowledgeable professionals, who are confident enough to say the profound and powerful word, ‘no.’”
Parker also advises pro athletes to avoid spending on depreciating assets such as cars, boats and multiple homes.
Another financial pitfall Parker advises jocks to avoid is predatory women, more commonly known as “gold diggers.” Many athletes often get into trouble with women who get pregnant and demand exorbitant child support payments. As difficult as it sounds, Parker says athletes have to analyze every potential relationship and think about the long-term repercussions.
“No moment, regardless of how passionate, is worth the sacrifice of having to interact with a terrible person because the two of you share a child,” Parker noted. “Athletes are walking targets for schemers of all types. Athletes with savvy agents and publicists understand this phenomenon. Under the counsel of their management team, these superstars approach every situation with an in-depth knowledge that a single mistake can ruin your career and your life.”
Kumbie Mtunga, a LA-based financial consultant, has worked with several high-profile athletes and entertainers. He says athletes suffer from the same problem as the rest of the population–a lack of financial literacy. This lack of financial training and poor management skills, are the two main reasons why athletes go broke, Mtunga said.
“An athlete should have two objectives during his playing years–minimize tax liability and invest conservatively,” Mtunga said “Their investment strategy should be similar to that of a individual about to retire because their careers don’t last long and often end abruptly. They could be making $3 million this year and nothing next year. If they earn $3 million, their tax liability is approximately $1.5 million for that year.”
Tax issues can easily land athletes in trouble, because few players consider their obligations to Uncle Sam, when they look at their contracts. “Most of us read the salary contracts, but never grasp the tax burden that comes with such outrageous salaries,” Mtunga said. “This is where athletes get into trouble. They spend most of what they earn and end up owing the IRS large sums that they don’t have. I advise my clients to negotiate contracts that defer much of what they earn over a period of time. This does two things, it protects them from their own worst enemy, themselves, and it minimizes taxes.”
Mtunga also touches on a little-known area of financial management. He says athlete, need to guard against fraud and poor information from financial managers. Mtunga noted that many players have all of their financial affairs–taxes, investment, contract negotiation–all in one place.
“This is a recipe for disaster,” Mtunga contends. “The conflict of interest alone leaves the door open for fraud, yet most athletes view this setup as a convenience. In these structures, as much as 20 percent a year of an athlete’s earnings are paid out for fees.” Like Parker, Mtunga says that it is difficult preparing young men from lower to middle-class backgrounds to deal with huge amounts of money.
“When one generates wealth organically, you acquire financial literacy in each step up the financial ladder,” Mtunga said. “Athletes unfortunately don’t experience this; they acquire wealth overnight, so they lack the fundamental knowledge that is required of one who has wealth.
Mtunga says that if players are going broke, questions need to be asked of their financial managers. “Sure part of the fault falls on the athletes themselves,” Mtunga said, “But if you are paying an extraordinary amount for services and advice to prevent that and yet it still happens, more often than not, then there’s a problem somewhere within the system.”