HBO’s Emmy-winning newsmagazine, “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” returned Tuesday night to open its 18th season. The lead story was a feature on Magic Johnson, the NBA great-turned-businessman whose net worth is estimated at $750 million. His famous smile was bigger and brighter than ever in the piece.
But earlier that day, we heard a tale regarding athletes and money that unfortunately is much more familiar. An attorney for former NFL quarterback Vince Young said his client “needs a job.” Young apparently has hit hard times, despite being the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2006.
That can’t make him too happy, and the situation becoming national news doesn’t help. He used Twitter on Wednesday to concur with his attorney, tweeting: “Yes, I need a job, who doesn’t.”
Most folks need jobs. But most folks didn’t earn $26 million over six years from the Tennessee Titans and bank another $4 million last year from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Young’s case, and others like it, can produce a wide array of emotions, including anger, pity, contempt, sorrow and disgust. The warped among us even might experience joy or contentment, believing that athletes don’t deserve their riches anyway and it’s funny when their wealth is squandered.
I find it sad that so many athletes go through piles of money like they’re wearing leaf blowers. I wish more players would learn from the horror stories of those who preceded them. Better yet, more should study examples like Johnson or Junior Bridgeman, the former NBA star who owns more than 260 Wendy’s and Chili’s combined.
Johnson’s transition from Hall of Fame point guard to all-world entrepreneur has been remarkable, a fascinating journey that other athletes will find hard to duplicate. But it began with a mindset, a determination that he would be a businessman once his playing career ended. And he didn’t wait, either, buying a radio station as a rookie and later buying a Pepsi distributorship instead of simply doing Pepsi commercials.
Most of us work for someone else, and far too many of us live paycheck to paycheck — more than two-thirds of Americans according to a recent survey. So we shouldn’t crucify Young for failing to become a titan of industry, or for not investing as wisely as Warren Buffett. Signing a multimillion dollar sports contract is akin to hitting the lottery, and studies indicate that roughly nine out of 10 big Lotto winners lose their windfall within five years.
It’s not like sports leagues ignore the problem. There are lectures on financial planning, workshops on life skills and internships to explore post-playing career options. There also are mandatory rookie symposiums; Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones told the 2012 rookie class that he once blew $1 million in one weekend.
Young, cut by the Buffalo Bills during training camp, lists the usual reasons for his financial woes: bad agents and bad financial planners who either gave bad advice (at best), or misappropriated funds and committed forgery (at worst). He has filed a lawsuit against them for what his lawyer calls a conspiracy to steal Young’s money.
The defendants allege that Young signed off on every decision and is shirking his personal responsibility. They also point to Young hiring an uncle — a middle school teacher with no experience — to serve as his business manager. There are reports that Young was a wild spender, peeling off wads of money for bar tabs and food bills as he treated teammates and others.
Young thought he was a big-time baller, and he was to an extent. But it’s all relative.
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has signed two $200 million contracts during his career, totaling $527 million. Kobe Bryant has cashed Los Angeles Lakers paychecks worth $221 million thus far, with another $27.8 million due next season. Ferrari once paid Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen $153 million to race its cars for three years.
It would be a shame if any of those athletes ever cried broke. It’s a shame for Young, too, even with his “paltry” $30 million since entering the NFL. “We are working to rectify some unfortunate finical losses, which stemmed from betrayal by those I trusted most,” he tweeted.
He has no one to blame but himself, but he’s far from alone. A 2009 Sports Illustrated report found that 78 percent of former NFL players and 60 percent of former NBA players are broke or under financial stress within a few years of retirement.
Those stats shouldn’t be nearly as high, but they make Johnson’s story even more amazing.