One of the more buzzworthy ESPN films this past year was “Greed,” the documentary which went in-depth looking at the failures of athletes and their money. Millions came in, millions went out. While the film again shook the trees to expose the gross mismanagement of select pro athletes, many felt that the sensationalization of failure did little to help lead young athletes down a positive path with solutions and planning, nor did it help tell many of the positive stories of athletes who have done well, planned well, and found ways to use their fame for whatever comes next when the cheering stops.
With that in mind, this past week the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU-SCPS) and Constellation Wealth Management announced a research study to gauge the overall financial health and well-being of athletes in their post-professional athletic careers. Think “Greed is Good” with Gordon Gecko in “Wall Street 2.” The study will look at all aspects of an athlete’s financial, philanthropic and social involvement and weight elements that have helped get him or her to that point. The resulting index will highlight not the failures of athletes but those who have been successful, and create a table for which other athletes, agents and teams can look to when trying to figure out what should be factored in as a career evolves.
“All too often, the media dwells upon the failures of athletes after their professional careers have ended, but there are numerous examples of those who have excelled,” said Robert Boland, academic chair of the NYU-SCPS Tisch Center. “We expect that this research will help to define what is needed to ensure post-career success for future generations of athletes.”
Among the others lending input to the study at launch are former NFL quarterback Steve Bono, and PGA Pro Joe Ogilvie, both of whom are involved with Constellation. Bono, who sported a Super Bowl ring from his years with the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, has an interesting perspective as his son Chris is playing both football and baseball at UCLA. He provided some thoughts on the value of such a study from a team perspective. “When you are an athlete in a team sport, guys are always looking around to see who can help with various topics, whether it is a physical therapist or someone who know real estate,” he said. “It is a lot about the now, vs. the future and often times the planning for what happens later isn’t really talked about. This type of index, with a school like NYU doing the research, I think will get some real use by athletes in teams sports because this type of thing sometimes isn’t discussed that openly and it is very much needed.”
Ogilvie, who is still active on the PGA Tour, added that although there may an impression that financial blunders may not happen as much with elite individual sports like golf or tennis, the chance for failure is just as great, if not even more than team sports. “In golf the feeling was that guys are more mature and that financial institutions are very involved in the sport, so the need for such an index of success isn’t really needed,” he said. “However the Tour of today is just like elite team sports…guys are making huge sums of money and are being successful at a much younger age, and they are no more equipped to handle all those pitfalls as an NBA or NFL star. They have to prepare and this type of index will provide them, and those who manage them, with some very important data that they may not be thinking about.”
Seth Abraham, a log time sports executive with Major League Baseball, HBO Sports and Madison Square Garden, is also involved with the index, and offered his unique perspective on the need for such a program as well. “I think one of the people who could have benefitted from such an index is Muhammad Ali,” Abraham added. “Here was one of the greatest figure sin not just sports but entertainment history, and he fought his last few fights for the money he needed at the time. Whether it was he or Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield, whose mismanagement with finances was legendary, something like this could have been used as a yardstick to help avoid catastrophe. It is not the ultimate answer, but we all feel it will be a much-needed yardstick.”
The first findings of the index are expected to be released later in the spring. Whether the finding will be celebrated for their good news vs. the gossip that comes out of financial disaster remains to be seen. The hope by those involved is that the index won’t just celebrate those who have done well; it will help save those who are currently excelling with a barometer for preparedness for themselves as well, in an area which sometimes is explored way too late in a career conducted under the brightest of lights.