According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 60 percent of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress. Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders, saddled with medical problems, and naturally prone to showing off, many pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life. Drawing surprisingly vulnerable confessions from retired stars like Keith McCants, Bernie Kosar and Andre Rison, as well as Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the MLB Players Association, this fascinating documentary digs into the psychology of men whose competitive nature can carry them to victory on the field and ruin off it.
Director Billy Corben (The U, Cocaine Cowboys, Limelight) paints a complex picture of the many forces that drain athletes' bank accounts, placing some of the blame on the culture at large while still holding these giants accountable for their own hubris. A story of the dark side of success, "Broke," is an allegory for the financial woes haunting economies and individuals all over the world.
In June 2009, we interviewed quarterback Bernie Kosar for the ESPN 30 for 30, The U. Anyone who knows Bernie will tell you, he's as kind and generous a guy you could ever meet. In fact, he was extremely generous with his time that morning; he talked with us for several hours and, afterwards, took pictures and signed autographs for the crew.
A few weeks later, Dan LeBatard broke the news: Following a series of bad investments and a costly divorce, Kosar had filed for bankruptcy. It was a shock. Beyond football, Kosar was renowned for his business savvy and known to have been even more financially successful after his decade-long NFL career than during it.
Personally, it broke my heart. Other than appearing tired at times, there was little or no indication during the hours Bernie spent with us that he was in the midst of this ordeal.
In the early part of the millennium, you'd occasionally hear about a high profile athlete suffering financial difficulties, but Pablo Torre's article, 'How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke,' in the March 2009 Sports Illustrated, cast a spotlight on what seemed to be an emerging epidemic in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown.
These days, it seems there's a new story every week and we felt these stories were worth exploring. Not everyone was so enthusiastic about it, though.
They say the most uncouth subjects for dinner conversation are politics and religion. I gotta add money to that list. Athletes, a famously proud group, were not particularly anxious to discuss the state of their finances, so getting interviews for this project, not surprisingly, proved to be a challenge. I really admire the people who agreed to speak with us because they sincerely felt like they have something to offer the next generation and hope that others will learn from their experience.
The way "Broke" is structured, it's not about people, per se, but the problem, told by the people who experience(d) it. It's essentially a step-by-step guide, How To Lose Millions of Dollars Without Breaking a Sweat.
Conventional wisdom is that professional athletes blow a lot of money on useless crap. Spoiler alert: professional athletes blow a lot of money on useless crap. But that's barely the tip of the iceberg. I was surprised to discover -- and I think others will be, too -- how easy it is to go broke. .
What's Everyone Saying?
Florida native Billy Corben's feature documentary directorial debut, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001, making him one of the youngest directors in Sundance history. Examining the alleged rape of an exotic dancer at a fraternity house at the University of Florida, the film utilized extensive clips from videotape footage of the alleged assault. Considered by critics to be "one of the most controversial films of the modern day" and "one of the most compelling pieces of non-fiction ever produced," (Film Threat Magazine), Raw Deal has been seen all over the world.
Following that success, Corben and producing partner Alfred Spellman founded rakontur, a Miami Beach-based content creation company, and took on another Florida true crime story, this one closer to home. The New York Times called 2006's Cocaine Cowboys "a hyperventilating account of the blood-drenched Miami drug culture in the 1970's and '80s." The film tells the story of how the drug trade built Corben's native city of Miami, through firsthand accounts of some of the most successful smugglers of the era and the deadliest hitman of the Cocaine Wars. The sequel, Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustling with the Godmother, was released in 2008.
2011 saw the release of two Corben directed movies, "Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja" and "Limelight." In addition to Broke, his 2012-13 slate includes a Cocaine Cowboys dramatic series adaptation for HBO, with executive producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, the feature documentary Dawg Fight, a violent expose on illegal underground backyard fights in South Florida and two Cocaine Cowboys sequels.