Young-ian Psychology: The Top 6 Reasons Why Athletes Go Broke
“That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what. Now try How and Why” --Margaret Atwood, "Happy Endings"
Back in May, a Nevada man named Walter Samasko Jr. died and left behind $200 in the bank, $165,000 in investments, and over $7 million in gold coins. He lived in a 1970s house with outdated shag carpet and few expenses. Contrast that with the recent story about Vince Young losing much of his guaranteed $26 million contract and whatever he earned in endorsements. What makes these stories interesting isn’t what happened so much as how they happened.
Who cares if someone dies with $7 million dollars? But if he somehow managed to do it with coins, then it’s something worth paying attention to, at least until the next shiny news item catches our attention. Similarly, if Young had simply spent all of his money at strip clubs, we would’ve deemed it so 2007 and moved on. We really only care if you lose your fortune in an interesting way. If not, it’s just as much a cliche as a televangelist sex scandal: mention it in the news then forget it. Listed below are the top reasons why athletes go broke in order of newsworthiness. The more interesting the reasons, the less tolerable the mistakes.
6. Bad Investments
Liz: Can you teach me how to do that thing that rich people do where they take their money and make more money?
Jack: You mean investing? Yes. With my eyes closed.
--30 Rock, “Rosemary’s Baby” episode
Investing in a business or putting our money in stocks is the first thing we would do if we signed a contract that made us a millionaire overnight. The problem with the business world is the same problems we have in the sports world. Just like how one day a team is a sure bet for gambling, fantasy sports, or pure bragging rights, six weeks later the team could be a leper for bettors. You can take the dozens upon dozens of possible contingencies into account and still be wrong. Way wrong.
Bad investments don’t get talked about as much when discussing the broke athlete. First, even experts can make mistakes. Donald Trump put his money behind the USFL. Warren Buffet invested in US Airways. And Deuce McAllister stayed in the car dealership business a little too long. Second, no one wants to hear about how someone tried to be proactive with their money only to discover they would have been better off burying it in the backyard. We all say that if we had their money we would invest it, so we don’t want to hear that an athlete did just that and it didn’t work. Because then it could happen to us. Third, poor investments don’t make for good stories, even if it’s a business that was almost destined to fail. Of course, most bad business moves are like bad first round picks: they seem foolish only in hindsight. And like a front office and coaching staff covering itself when a player is a bust, business partners and investors shoulder some blame--but not too much--because they must protect themselves, which leads to the next financial drainer...
5. Legal Issues
“I’m not broke; I’m just not liquid.” --Evander Holyfield
Not to be confused with illegal issues. These aren’t about criminal activity as much as they’re about disputes with agents, accountants, and financial advisors. In Young’s case, his errors seem obvious. But he only did what most people do, which is hire someone you trust to take care of your assets. We probably wouldn’t hire our uncle who knows more about middle school pedagogy than microeconomic finance principles, but we could unknowingly hire a legit agency only to find out that it was in over its head. This mistake is easier than you may realize. Remember, Young’s uncle partnered with a lawyer in a major city. That’s still not the route you’d want to go, but even picking a lawyer to be your lawyer can be problematic. Think about it: if you had a friend who was a lawyer, if you heard him talking about court cases and peppering his speech w/ legal jargon, you may think that he was a good one. After all, he’s your friend, you’ve known him a long time, and he seems smart to you. But if you actually needed him, you may find out otherwise (and find out too late). Not all lawyers are good and the same is true about people who handle money. But do we really know enough to distinguish between quality people? When choosing services from painting our roof to fixing our car, we tend to not use the best criteria for evaluating quality. And even if a trusted friend refers us to someone, our situation might be way different from the situation of our trusted friend. And someone who is good at managing the finances of a $70,000/yr middle class insurance salesmen may not be able to do the same for a $7.1 million athlete. Smart, competent people get in over their heads and don't realize it until it’s too late. With all that can go wrong in the financial sector, it’s probably best to not let your family, no matter how much you trust them, handle your money.
4. Helping Friends & Family
“I’m going to buy my mom a house.” --Every athlete of any sport drafted in the first round.
“Mr. Curry is a very, very generous man [...] he apparently has taken it upon himself to support every person named Curry on the East Coast.” --Donald Davis, a former lawyer for Miami Heat center Eddy Curry
Dan LeBetard mentioned this on his show when he said that it was heartbreaking to hear Young talk about having to say no to his mom. Saying no to mom is way more difficult than saying no to some relative you've only met twice or a friend you haven’t seen since the late 90s. I’d buy my parents a house. I might (might!) pay a first cousin’s tuition or something. But if you’re my second cousin, then that means your well-educated parent should take the life skills I financed and help you out that way.
If you want to witness a case study of this, watch some of the episodes of Khloe and Lamar when Lamar’s dad is on. Lamar’s relationship with his dad shows how it’s not just about saying no once but saying it often and at unexpected times. Of course, the family members you are born with can be expensive, but the ones you choose and the ones you create will require the most money, which brings us to...
3. Alimony & Child Support
“Most of our wives are planners and meticulous budgeters [...] our wives are a lot more conservative with money than we are.” --from The Millionaire Next Door
In their book The Millionaire Next Door, Drs. Stanley & Danko outline the lifestyle and mindset of the typical millionaire, not the ones we blog about but the average ones, people whose neighbors have no idea how rich they are. One of the most common factors of maintaining wealth is to stay married to the same woman. If you lose your fortune and you have more than 2 ex-wives, public empathy depreciates considerably.
Now, Young wasn’t married, which is good, but he had some illegitimate children. If you’re the quarterback of the local NFL team, women come to you. Aggressively. While this makes it easier to get women, you still must be able to say no (or at least, hold on let me get this out of the wrapper and put it on). Because when you hear about T.O., Travis Henry, or Ric Flair, it sounds more like habitually bad judgment than an understandable, one time error. Of course, impregnating multiple women draws such little public sympathy because it is inextricably linked to our next financial loss issue. It seems difficult to father so many children unless you are a strict adherent to Catholicism, Mormonism, or....
“I spent a lot of money on booze, [women], and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” --George Best
I know I’ve dug deep into the time capsule for this quote. But in the decades since he said this, has there been a quote that better encapsulates how we view the athlete losing his money on night life?
It’s hard to feel bad for the athlete who squanders his paycheck partying. It’s even harder for us to feel sorry for someone who spends the equivalent of our paycheck and the paychecks of everyone we know in a given evening.
Partying one’s money away gets the most attention because it’s just so much fun to talk about. It’s like the double-jointed woman at the circus: both impressive and horrifying. Part of you wants to do it but the other more sensible part says no.
For instance, when Pacman talks about spending $1 million in one weekend, we can guess where it went, but the details of how are fascinating. It’s like the “Leap Day” episode of 30 Rock when they tried to spend a $50,000 giftcard at a Beni Hanna in one day. They stuffed themselves with food and drink only to realize they only spent $10,000 worth. Spending over $50 is easy.Spending $5,000 takes work, especially at the Cheesecake Factory. It's like a challenge you’ve inexplicably accepted for yourself. And if you’re considering spending $5,000 in one night just to prove a blogger wrong, remember you can’t just order bottles of Cristal for everyone at the bar several times over. That’s cheating. Although excessive partying is exasperating, the one that seems most odd is...
1. Illegal Activities
No quote needed.
For most people, the older you get the less you get in trouble. Consciously, you have more to lose. Subconsciously, you just get better at following rules, especially the ones associated with jail time.
There are anomalies like Michael Vick with dogfighting and Marion Jones with check fraud, but most illegal activities involving athletes have to do with drugs. Specifically, using them. And even though Young did get arrested for the incident in the Dallas strip club, he was never involved in the type of illegal activities I’m discussing here. His fingerprints may be all over the other items on this list, but he was, for some Titans fans, more of an on-field headache than an off-the-field problem.
All that said, illegal activities, more than any other issue, alienate fans. The popularity of sports depends on fans connecting with the athletes. And getting arrested over and over does not resonate with most people, especially since there are way more legal things you can do in a given moment than illegal things. If you must spend large sums of money for criminal defense lawyers, you probably aren’t in trouble for a one time incident.
Of course, the good thing about Young’s story is that he is--well--young. The Horatio Alger myths that shaped America’s past have, in the last 40 years, been transformed. It’s no longer about coming from nowhere and making it with the odds against you. It’s now about coming from nowhere and making it with the odds against you, losing it all, and finding a way back. It’s no longer about success but about redemption and success. So perhaps in a few years, Vince Young’s story will cause us to look at the top ways athletes re-emerge in the second act of their lives, showing us that the hows and whats that make up our personal narratives can often be re-written.