- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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How in the hell did Vince Young blow through $26 million?
I'll admit, that was the first question that popped into my head when I heard the third player taken in the 2006 NFL draft was broke. And the truth is, I don't know how you can burn through that much money in such a short period of time.
Which led me to my second question: "What does any of that have to do with me?" That question was far easier for me to answer: nothing.
While VY's financial problems -- which he attributes to "betrayal" by trusted advisers -- make for good jokes and better gossip, at the end of the day, the average fan can't really learn anything from them. We'll never see $26 million in our lifetimes. Some of us will never see $1 million in our lifetimes. So while Young's story is a cautionary tale about the proverbial fool and his money soon being parted, fans are not really the fools who need to be listening to this story. It's the amount that separates us. Yeah, we all know someone in debt, but the belief is when you're working a regular job it's easier for regular folks to understand. When rich athletes go through this, it's harder for working-class people to care.
The guys playing on Sunday are the potential fools who need to be listening to this story.
In the Associated Press story about Young's news, his attorney is quoted saying: "I would just say that Vince needs a job." A couple of days later Young himself tweeted "yes, I need a job, who doesn't."
Well, here's a thought: the NFLPA should hire him to be a financial planner whose assignment is not to tell players what to do but rather what not to do. All he would have to do is meet with a player, show a copy of his rookie contract from 2006, show a bank statement from 2012 and boom; he's one of the most qualified people on the planet to be having that kind of conversation. And it's not a conversation to be had once and then both parties move on. Rich people don't meet with their financial planner once and then tell the planner they'll take it from here.
Sounds a bit mean? Well, it might be but so what?
Fans already know Young is not a great NFL quarterback. And judging from the fact he's only 29, hasn't had a career-ending injury and yet is currently out of the league, most GMs don't consider him to be a good quarterback, either. He still may have an opportunity to play again, but it's highly unlikely he'll get a contract that pays anywhere near what he made back in 2006.
But if Young truly learned anything from this six-year ordeal, he could monetize his insight and sustain himself as a sage for other players, particularly black players. Not that white or Latino players can't go broke but two-thirds of NFL players in the past two decades have been black. What's more, Sports Illustrated estimated in 2009 that 78 percent of NFL players were bankrupt or faced serious financial stress within two years of ending their playing careers. And when you consider more than one in four blacks in this country is living below the poverty line -- there's a good chance that a black NFL player may not come from a family of means or generational financial wisdom -- what you have is a fascinating socio-economic case study that far too often produces headlines like Vince Young's, or Warren Sapp's (who had to auction his shoe collection to pay off huge debts) or Terrell Owens' (who has been reduced to making $28 an hour during his brief stint with the Seattle Seahawks).
None of the men may be standing-in-a-welfare-line kind of broke, but considering they collectively have made well more than $100 million and all have filed for bankruptcy, clearly the NFLPA -- and NFL, for that matter -- must get more creative in finding ways to help men who may be coming from nothing learn how to leave this game with something. And I'm not just talking about having someone stand in front of a bunch of disinterested rookies during a symposium (as Michael Vick did this year). What is needed is one-on-one mentoring in which a guy like Young can be a constant presence, if not reminder, of the pitfalls that are out there.
Brandon Marshall recently said he couldn't listen to financial advice from a guy like Sapp because he filed for bankruptcy. And I agree if Sapp was trying to tell Marshall how he should invest his money. But if Sapp told Marshall, "Hey man, I bought 240 pairs of Jordans and a whole bunch of other things I don't have anymore, and now I can't make all my child support payments. So you know, be careful because I wasn't and now I'm broke." I would like to think Marshall would be smart enough to listen to that.
How many times have we seen young black athletes iced up during the draft? If they haven't been drafted yet, then they haven't signed a contract yet. And if they haven't signed an NFL contract yet, then they haven't gotten an NFL paycheck yet. And if he hasn't gotten an NFL paycheck, then what in the world is a supposed broke college student doing wearing a $10,000 watch? An agent fronting an athlete cash for a down payment on a modest house says he's looking out for his client's financial future. An agent loaning cash for depreciating assets so their client can show off money that he doesn't have that smells like trouble.
I recently attended a luncheon sponsored by the National Black Justice Coalition and had the opportunity to chat with Eugene Cornelius Jr., who is the deputy associate administrator for field operations for the U.S. Small Business Administration. We talked about the poverty numbers and the impact our culture of immediate gratification has on the black community. We talked about the need to move beyond external acquisitions to compensate for internal deficiencies.
"We don't have to deny ourselves but rather delay ourselves," he said. Now here's someone anybody getting a giant contract should listen to.
That's still a tough lesson to teach. The NFL and NFLPA are already offering some financial advice and even if a guy like Young is doing the reminding, that still doesn't guarantee every player is going to get it. But judging from the statistics, both organizations need to work harder at providing more in-depth and long-term financial advice because headlines featuring one-time stars like Young reflect poorly on the NFL brand. The league should want its retired players to be ambassadors who can promote the sport positively, not become laughingstocks for widely being considered idiots. One doesn't have to spend too much time on social media or reading the comment section of blogs to see pro players' bankruptcies don't get much sympathy from the masses.
Yeah sure, we all know people in our lives who owe a lot on their credit cards or may even have had a car repossessed or their house foreclosed on. But the higher the income, the lower the sympathy, at least from people working 40-plus hours a week to make a five-figure salary. So if Chad Johnson -- who is unemployed, getting divorced and just bought a $376,000 car -- ends up losing all of his money, replacement refs would get more sympathy than him.
Which is why the Vince Young story is one for the athletes.
All fans are really going to do is laugh about it.
Only the players themselves can learn from it.
5hEric D. Williams
1dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo