Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Special Challenges of Professional Athletes and Divorce

I recently had the opportunity to speak to the Sports Financial Advisors Association Conference in Dallas about "Clients in Crisis: Protecting them Legally, Emotionally, and Financially" on a panel with Rick Robertson from Koons, Fuller, Vanden Eykel, and Roberton in Dallas, and Anthony Flax from ITC Recovery in NYC. Both Anthony and Rick provided invaluable insights to the challenges of dealing with crises with professional athletes.

Russell Maryland, former DE from the Dallas Cowboys, and Shauna Collum, former wife of an NFL football player, were panel members on a panel just prior to ours, and gave an illuminating presentation about the financial and resulting relationship challenges that arise BEFORE draft day. Many potential professional sports draft picks are approached by potential "agents" and "advisors" with opportunities to borrow significant sums of money (to buy cars and bling, usually) BEFORE they have been drafted or signed contracts.

This practice is so common that many of these young men already have major financial problems brewing during the very first year of their professional careers. The numbers bear this out, as 80% of all NFL players and 60% NBA players are getting divorce AND in serious financial difficulty or bankruptcy within 3 years of the end of their playing careers. The toll on these players, the spouses, and their children is a disaster repeated year after year.

This extremely high rate of divorce, along with the accompanying financial challenges, is a black mark on both the NFL and the NFLPA. It is apparent to any reasonable professional that these young men are a high risk group that needs early intervention to prevent this predictable family carnage. Both groups need to collaborate on solutions like this:

1. Values education and clarification for players and spouses before the draft occurs or before first camp begins and legal advice about how to protect their newfound affluence and assets.
2. Mentors who are NOT family members or friends to advise on financial and relationship issues, including community service and personal branding as a part of long term career planning after retirement.
3. Life coaching for skills building in personal finance, emotional intelligence, relationship and personal management, and parenting.
4. Outplacement services to facilitate the transition to life after professional sports.

A comprehensive program could reduce the rate of divorce and financial disaster for these families substantially and save lots of children the anguish of divorce and financial stress. These families deserve a better life.

The PowerPoint presentation from our panel on dealing with crises is available online at my Linked-In page.

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