Among NFL players' main challenges: managing big bucks

Posted at 2:05 PM, Nov 23, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) -- Playing in the NFL brings many challenges. Money management might not seem to belong on that list.

Yet experts say it should be a high priority - even for players just entering the league.

No one is suggesting the fans who spend their hard-earned wages to support pro football should sympathize with guys who might waste the big bucks on bad investments or unwise spending. But they should recognize that millions upon millions of dollars can bring dozens upon dozens of problems for NFL players.

"We all have different vices," said former NFL linebacker Bart Scott, who's helping Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment's financial education program for football players. "Some have entourages, friends, family they support, or they overextend themselves buying a house too early, or the career is not going the way you need it to, or you have child support.

"I've seen guys lose money in a multitude of ways, so we're trying to give them more information, provide checks and balances."

Players can get money management guidance from programs like Morgan Stanley GSE, as well as through the NFL and the players' union. It's essential education, whether for a rookie making the six-figure minimum or the star earning eight figures a year.

The union, for example has an online learning center where players can complete assessments to determine where they stand financially, and identify their key vulnerabilities. That site also provides them with additional information to help meet their financial goals and objectives.

They also can get access to counselors, webinars and in-person seminars and workshops. The NFLPA provides bi-weekly communications to the players to keep them informed on hot topics.

"I think the biggest issue for players is the sudden wealth factor," said Dana Hammonds, senior director of player development for the union. "Many players are coming from ethnic poverty and all of a sudden are thrust into this industry where they are paid millions of dollars and it literally happens overnight. There are very few individuals in society prepared to handle the sudden wealth. It is the emotional side they have to deal with, along with a quick and steep learning curve. And the career is 3 1/2 years on average, so a lot of that goes on very quickly."

Which makes it ever more critical for players to immediately get a handle on their finances once they make a roster - even before the big paydays might come.

Patrick Kerney spent 11 seasons as an NFL defensive end, making the All-Pro team in 2007. Soon after he retired in 2009, Kerney went to work for the league in the player investments area.

"My big idea behind joining the league office was that they held offseason camps for broadcasting and other (subjects)," he said, "and we had lots of guys with interest in those things. But 100 percent of our players should have disposable income they should have to manage, so a financial boot camp had universal application. It was a no-brainer to get guys together in the offseason to dial back from all the noise and hear unbiased information and the real numbers in the investment world."

Among Kerney's main concerns was getting "quality unbiased info to them before too much damage is done" by advisers who don't have the players' best interests at heart.

"The biggest pitfall is correlating football achievement with investment know-how," Kerney added. "If you are a young player and the All-Pro on your team is doing X, Y and Z with his assets, of course you think that is the right thing to do with your assets. But 99 percent of the time it is not.

"So getting them the right info, that is key."

Kerney has left the NFL, but his boot camp creation remains a major offseason initiative to provide that info. So are the financial education sessions that are mandatory in the league's rookie transition and rookie success programs.

One of the organizations the NFL works with through its financial literacy program is Money Management International, a nonprofit full-service credit counseling agency. The players' union provides advisers vetted by outside organizations who meet eligibility criteria set by the NFLPA.

Morgan Stanley GSE takes its program a step further by offering services to potential NFL players as well as to the pros. It has delivered 34 collegiate programs and also works with the Senior Bowl and has conducted sessions for players with the Jaguars, Seahawks and Steelers.

Rather than lecture the athletes, Morgan Stanley's approach is more conversational and interactive.

"We make sure the content is relevant for where they were," said Drew Hawkins, managing director and head of Morgan Stanley GSE. "We hear from the athletes in terms of challenges they are dealing with and we're able to incorporate what our consultants have experienced with these issues, and can really put this in a way to make it very relevant.

"Our financial education programs are not targeted or designed to develop new business for ourselves, but to better educate these individuals into the do's and don'ts of what they need to be thinking of. If we get around these athletes while they're still in college, when they graduate they hopefully have a foundation to make the right decisions."

When they build that foundation, it's not only fulfilling for the players, but for those who have been advising them.

"I still get texts from guys who are still using the lessons learned years later," Kerney said. "That's incredibly rewarding."