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VOL. 36 | NO. 5 | Friday, February 3, 2012

Former WKRN anchor helps players avoid fumbling fortunes

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The topic of athletes, and especially NFL players, was back in the news last week with the GQ story that future Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens is broke, despite earning in the neighborhood of $80 million throughout a 15-year career.

These days, Owens is being taken to task by four different women with whom he has fathered children, and is desperately hoping for another shot at the NFL. He has signed a contract with something called the Indoor Football League to play with a team in Texas.

Sadly, Owens’ story is more the rule than the exception for many pro athletes who come into money quickly only to see much of their fortune evaporate just as rapidly as it arrived.

A story in Sports Illustrated from 2009 reported that 78 percent of NFL players were broke just a few years after their playing days were done. Statistics are similar for other sports.

It can even be compared to the guy living in the trailer park who wins the lottery for millions of dollars, only to wind up right back in dire straits only a few years after his good fortune.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Chris Stout, the former WKRN sports anchor, is now a financial adviser to athletes and entertainers as a co-owner and principle at Evergreen Consulting Sports and Entertainment.

“Nobody wants to be Terrell Owens. Nobody wants to be Latrell Sprewell. Nobody wants to be Travis Henry,” Stout says, pointing to three cautionary tales of athletes in financial ruin.

(Editor's note: In the original version of this column, Stout added: “Even guys like Mark Brunell and Tony Boselli filed for bankruptcy, guys you wouldn’t think would have to.” Boselli, however, contacted the Ledger to say he has never filed for bankruptcy. The Ledger is happy to set the record straight.)

There seem to be two primary problems for professional athletes who often sign contracts for millions with little to no financial training on how to handle it.

First, there is the lure to keep up with the Joneses, buying too many houses, too many cars or trying to maintain too much of a jet-set and party lifestyle.

The other problem is that once someone makes it, there are always family members or friends from the “old days” trying to latch on, wanting money to invest in this or spend on that. Most of that money is never recouped and, of course, never seen again.

Poor investments were a big part of what sank Owens’ fortune.

When it comes to friends and family trying to claw at a player’s instant fortune, Stout says his company makes anyone asking for money from the player to draw up a business model and present it to his company. They then accept or reject the plan based on its chance of financial success. He said it eliminates virtually all of the cousins wanting to start record labels, or the buddies wanting money to open a sports bar or whatever risky business.

“What that does is take the athlete off the hook,” Stout says. “We are the ones saying yes or no. The athlete is busy trying to train, trying to prepare for a game, trying to stay focused on their craft. It is critical for performance that they’re not worried about saying yes or no to cousins and brothers and sisters.

“It just makes his life that much cleaner, and they’re able to train and focus, which can be different in their performance and getting their next contract.”

What Stout tries to do is to meet with his clients, determine their long-term goals and help meet them. His firm also allots some money along the way for mom or dad or whoever the athlete might want to take care of.

“It’s not about keeping them from (taking care of people),” Stout says. “It’s about building a strategy and understanding what they want to do long-term. I tell them, ‘Tell me where do you want to be 10 to 15 years down the road? In 20 years, I can guarantee you’re not going not be playing anymore. Where do you want to be?’”

Former Titans center Kevin Mawae, who is president of the NFL Players Association until his term ends in March, says the players and the league make managing finances a serious point of emphasis each year with the rookie symposium.

“It’s one of the key things that we talk about in the symposium, and last year the players held our own ‘Welcome to the NFL’ because of the lockout. We always have guys that come in and talk about the woes of poor investment choices,” Mawae says. “They have a presentation that takes a player’s paycheck and breaks it down into taxes, agent fees and everything else, so it shows them exactly how much they have to live on. We try to teach them about budgeting money and things like that.”

Mawae says a basic problem is that many players just don’t have the wherewithal to deal with a multi-fold increase in their finances literally overnight.

“Most players don’t have the foundation to understand the basic principles of finance and economics, or some just really don’t care,” Mawae says. “The problems occur when you transition out of the league, and that money is eventually gone, but you still have guys trying to maintain the same lifestyle.”

That’s where Stout says he and his group and other reputable financial advisers want to help.

“We talk to the athlete and find out what their goals are,” Stout says. “If they say, ‘I want to keep the same lifestyle that I have right now,’ I might say to them, ‘Do you need three cars right now? Why don’t we go with one car now and save $100,000 on the other two. We’ll invest it wisely, and in 20 years it should be worth close to a half million. Then if you want to buy five cars with that in 20 years, you can.’”

Mawae says he and his wife followed that path and established a budget to live within their means from the time he can into the NFL. Sixteen years later, he is retired and coaching at Montgomery Bell Academy. His paycheck isn’t NFL-caliber anymore, but Mawae doesn’t have to worry about such things.

“A lot of times, guys go from a $30-a-week per-diem in college or making just a few thousand dollars from a summer job to instantly being rich, and you’re not prepared adequately for that kind of lifestyle,” Mawae says. “And when you walk away from the game, if you want to maintain that lifestyle, it is imperative to show them how to do it the right way.

“I played 16 years, and I’m fortunate enough to live a debt-free lifestyle now. I don’t carry a mortgage and I don’t carry bills, because along the way I had people that I trusted, my wife included, that held me accountable.”

Mawae says being the right kind of steward with the money that comes an athlete’s way can set up a player and his family both now and in the future, if the proper preparation is done. But oftentimes it is handled too carelessly.

Mawae says he has a question he would pose to guys entering the league.

“I asked them if they wanted to be rich or wealthy,” he explains. “You can be rich and have a lot of money in your pocket now, but it might be gone. Or you can be wealthy for a long time. You can maintain a wealthy lifestyle by living within your means.

“Guys say I’d rather be wealthy.

“You can make enough money to maintain a wealthy lifestyle. I enjoy my life and I don’t have to worry about somebody foreclosing on my house or taking my money away, because I was smart with the money I was given.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.

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