Financial literacy affords ample opportunity for teachable moments. Case in point: Dez Bryant’s $54,000 dinner tab. In 2010, Bryant was a rookie wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. During training camp, he bucked rookie hazing tradition by refusing to carry veteran teammate Roy Williams’ pads after practice. In retaliation, Bryant, who had received $8.3 million in guaranteed money from his rookie contract, was told he would instead have to take the team out to dinner. The tab: A reported $54,896.
Bryant’s loss served as a gain for other NFL players participating in a then fledgling financial literacy program created for the NFL Players Association by Financial Finesse. As part of the program, a contest was created to see which player could come up with the best response to what they would do with a near $55,000 windfall.
This program, which has since won several honors, was commissioned in 2009 by the NFLPA, which was concerned about the possibility of a player lockout. “Even if (the lockout) hadn’t happened,” said Liz Davidson, founder and CEO of Financial Finesse, “it would be a smart thing to have the players united around the concept of being financially secure enough to withstand prolonged negotiations.”
NFL players face unique money management challenges, Davidson noted. The players get paid over the 17-week season. “Imagine how hard that is,” she said. “There are 52 weeks in the year. They have to save for the offseason and also for the long term. Some players go on to be incredibly successful, but in most cases, their salary level will be considerably higher in their player years. It’s kind of upside down relative to most Americans who accumulate their wealth progressively rather than having to protect their wealth up front.”
Getting all this money over a short time period can be “mindblowing” for a young player without money management knowledge, added Dana Hammonds, Director of Player Affairs and Development for the NFLPA. “Many face overwhelming pressures of family, friends and communities and the feeling that they have a duty to take care of those who stood behind them (as they pursued their NFL dream). We’re trying to get players to start thinking about what happens next.”
The NFLPA and Financial Finesse financial literacy program is driven by readiness preparation for life events, including joining a team, buying a home, marriage (and divorce), raising financially literate children, retirement, and managing money expectations, “Transitioning from football is an interesting dynamic,” Davidson said. “They are retiring from this extremely lucrative job while they’re still comparatively young and they have to make that money last. In some cases, you have to alter your lifestyle and your budget. A lot depends on how they managed their money during their playing career.”
There are 1,200 players participating in the program, which belies a common misconception that athletes are frivolous with their money. “The public sees players go bankrupt due to extravagant spending, and there is that component for sure,” Davidson said. “But I think the players recognize they are in a unique situation and they need some sort of help. They don’t know what they don’t know. Most come in to the league with little or no financial education, so they might not know the fundamental (financial literacy) basics.”
The sad and sometimes sensational stories of athletes who squander their money also serve as an object lesson. “At this point, with all the media attention, players are very aware and do not want to become a statistic themselves,” Davidson said.
The financial literacy program also helps players find pre-approved financial advisors, guard themselves from investment scams, and learn tax-saving tips.
At the heart of the program’s success, Davidson said, is engagement through podcasts, video, personalized assessments and online contests. One recent contest, Davidson said, asked players to share their stories about the best thing they didn’t buy and what they did with that money instead. One player said that instead of buying a luxury car, he sent his little brother to college. Another fortuitously backed out of investing in the ill-fated World Football League and bought an apartment complex.
In seeking to gain financial literacy, the players’ competitive natures serve them well. “They are very competitive,” Davidson laughed. “I’m sure they aren’t thinking that the prizes we offer (such as a $150 gift certificate) aren’t the biggest in the world, but they want to win. For another of our contests, one player created an elaborate PowerPoint presentation.”
Everyone can take a page out of the NFLPA and Financial Finesse playbook. The biggest piece of the financial literacy puzzle, Davidson said, is saving. “The hardest thing to do is reduce expenses and cut back on things you don’t want to cut back on. If you don’t save, you won’t have the life you want to have.”
And that financially secure life, she added, is not doable without planning that will allow you to protect the wealth you build.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.