BLOG: Pro Leagues And NCAA Must Take Responsibility For Broke Athletes

Bernie Kosar went broke.

Bernie Kosar went broke.

By Kenny Brock

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Imagine all your life, you’ve been coddled, told you’re the greatest, and you’ll be rich beyond your wildest dreams one day.

Staying grounded, reminding myself that I have earned everything, but that the journey is far from over while relying heavily on my support system is how I would want to approach such a scenario.

But then I think back to when I was 19, 20, 21 years old and try to force myself to envision what it would have been like if I was a star athlete, made it to the pros and received a guaranteed contract worth $50 million. Can’t do it, it is unfathomable.

Professional sports contracts have grown exponentially in the last decade, and even still, players are going broke.

According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 78% of NFL players are either bankrupt or in financial trouble within two years of retirement, and an estimated 60% of NBA players go bankrupt within five years after leaving their sport.

Lat week, ESPN’s 30 for 30 aired a program called Broke. It was dedicated to discussing how athletes, who have made millions upon millions of dollars, go broke after their playing careers are finished. Bad investments, family greed, six cars, 30,000 square foot homes, copious amounts of jewelry, and enormous entourages were mentioned, and rarely, if ever, investments that produce a return.

Though the players must be held responsible for their situation, were they adequately prepared or were they failed along the way? Should the NCAA take some of the blame? Should the professional leagues raise their hands for not requiring them to finish their degree before making millions of dollars?

Blame should be divided equally.

The NCAA is taken advantage of every year by certain Division 1 basketball players, who we all know to be “one and dones.” Because David Stern and league officials were tired of being bamboozled by an over achieving high school player, they instituted a draft rule that a player must be 19 years old and one year removed from high school, even if that player is good enough to go straight to the NBA>

“Our rule is that they won’t be eligible for the draft until they’re 19. They can play in Europe, they can play in the D-League, they can go to college. This is a not a social program, this is a business rule for us. The NFL has a rule which requires three years of college. So the focus is often on ours, but it’s really not what we require in college,” Stern said.

The NFL mandates all rookies attend their rookie symposium. Spread out over four days, players are lectured, shown videos, and given advice on how to approach being a pro. Here is a direct paragraph from the NFL Player Engagement website:

 The program provides an orientation to life in the NFL including social responsibility, professional development, community engagement, league policies, workplace conduct, and media relations. In addition, it offers educational life-skills workshops on topics ranging from substance abuse, sex education, domestic violence, DUI, gambling, personal finance, associations, and family issues. These sessions help young players to recognize the off-the-field challenges that life as a professional football player may bring while also teaching them how to handle these challenges successfully.

Mike Vick, Adam “Pacman” Jones, and Michael Irvin, and players with similar stories come to speak about their past and how they would have done things differently, how new players should learn from their mistakes.

There are exceptions to every rule, each player will take what they choose to from the symposiums, but at that age we all think we are invincible, “yeah, yeah it won’t happen to me”.

The NCAA and professional leagues have set these athletes up for failure after their pro careers. In those few semesters what has the athlete taken away that they can later apply in their life? Did that Art History 101 class prepare them adequately for managing their bank accounts? How about a course in communication, what later-in-life skill was taken from that three months of lecturing?

“A vast majority of the student-athletes don’t go on to play professionally, they are there first and foremost to get an education,” says Jeff Tourial, Assistant Commissioner for Communications and New Media for the West Coast Conference.

I understand the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL are for profit businesses, as is the NCAA. But aren’t these the same leagues that stress player safety? Or does their definition of player safety strictly mean safety on the field, because their players are a danger to themselves both on and off the field.

Changes aren’t likely to happen in the near future, if ever, because the NCAA still refers to these future pros as student-athletes.

Why couldn’t there be a program geared specifically towards the life skills that will be needed for student athletes? Developing skills such as balancing a check book, investments, taxes, interviewing skills … you get the point. All things directly related to the different hurdles they will face on their journeys. All other majors in college get similar career training (internships), albeit two years into their studies after completion of their general education courses.

“If institutions can take notice of this problem, something could be done on an individual institutional level,” Tourial says. “Something like that would be more realistic than it coming down from atop of the NCAA. This is a huge challenge.”

Not every pro athlete squanders away their career earnings, but those numbers from Sports Illustrated are far higher than they should be. When we are young adults, we don’t always have our future interests in the forefront of our thought process. But the seasoned adults, who are supposed to be at hand for guidance and leadership, should be helping them to achieve a fulfilling life both during and after their playing careers are long over.

Kenny Brock is a producer at WIP, and contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly. You can follow him on Twitter @KBrockJr.

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