ESPN 30 for 30 'Broke': Eye-Opening Film Will Re-Ignite Debate over Athlete Pay
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That's about the best way to sum up what we saw in the latest release in the award-winning ESPN 30 for 30 Series, "Broke."
Based largely on Pablo S. Torre's 2009 article for Sports Illustrated, "How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke," director Billy Corben takes a fresh look at how multimillionaires manage to piss it all away.
One segment in particular, which Corben titled "Keeping Up With the Joneses," makes professional clubhouses and locker rooms seem more like a gathering of high school students submitting to indirect peer pressure rather than a room full of grown men who outwardly project a false sense of "I don't care what you think."
Former NFL players Keith McCants and Andre Rison, along with former MLB All-Star Cliff Floyd talk about that pressure in detail, alluding to the fact that it doesn't matter what your bankroll is in reality—if someone goes out and buys a $200,000 Rolex, you'd better be prepared to slap one that costs $250,000 on your wrist within days.
Because if you don't, someone else will. And then how will you feel?
Remind you of anything? How about high school where people are more concerned with keeping up with the latest fashion statement, petrified at the ridicule they believe will be levied upon them by their counterparts should they not "get with the program."
That's not to say that professional athletes don't have expenses, that they shouldn't be permitted to spend their money on whatever they want, whenever they choose.
Without question, those who can, should.
If I was the recipient of a multimillion dollar contract, you'd better believe that I'd take care of my family, my closest friends and buy myself a big house, a couple of awesome cars and whatever else my heart desired.
We all would, and athletes do as well.
But at some point, the vast majority of us would stop and do an accounting of what we had left. We would put it away. We would stop spending.
We would be responsible with our money.
Do you feel sympathy towards professional athletes who go broke?
Some professional athletes are very responsible with their money, and they go on to live in the lap of luxury long after their playing days are done.
But for far too many athletes, they find themselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle, some due to a nasty divorce, others because they are simply unable to curb their free-spending ways.
These facts from Torre's article are highlighted in the documentary:
- By the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.
- Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60 percent of former NBA players are broke.
Those are damning statistics, and while the data is three years old, it's hard to believe that much has changed.
Granted, many of these athletes are experiencing what it's like to have money for the first time in their lives. While we call them grown men, plenty of them are incredibly immature 20-somethings who haven't the first clue about personal responsibility or how to say "no."
That last part is understandable, considering how many of these athletes grew up being told "yes" to whatever they wanted.
Athlete compensation has long been a topic of debate, and I will never begrudge anyone in any profession from making as much money as they possibly can.
There is an epidemic running rampant among professional athletes that is a major issue, one that seems to fly under the radar, and it lends itself to re-opening the debate.
But it's not a debate about whether athletes deserve the amount of money that they are being paid.
It's about whether athletes can handle the responsibility that comes along with a financial windfall.
"Broke" will next air Saturday evening at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN Classic.
If you missed it and cannot wait until Saturday, you can watch it here.
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