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Big contract no guarantee athletes will not go broke

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Imagine being fresh out of college with a $25.7 million contract in hand and all the talent in the world to make more. How far could you go?

Vince Young didn’t make it past 30 without going broke.

The former Texas quarterback and Tennessee Titans star is out of football and out of money.

Last week, Young filed for bankruptcy, claiming debts of up to $10 million and assets of less than $1 million. The money is gone, and the former BCS national champion cannot pay his bills.

The plight of Young, whose Longhorns took the 2006 title in a classic Rose Bowl clash against Reggie Bush and USC, is a cautionary tale. Indeed, it seems more like a fairy tale with an especially unhappy ending.

How can one spend more than $25 million in just a few short years?

No doubt the answer has much to do with an extravagant lifestyle and unwise business moves. It will all come out in a bankruptcy proceeding that reads more like a soap opera.

Young will point the finger at business advisers who pocketed his money. They, in turn, will claim innocence. Through it all, the magnitude of the downward financial spiral is amazing.

Most of us could have taken the “.7” part of $25.7 million and done nicely in the past eight years. Not Vince. Clearly, this guy does not clip coupons.

Out of football and out of money at 30. After a release from the Titans he bounced around in Philly and Green Bay but could not stick. His career is likely over.

The truly sad part is Vince is not alone. Going broke is an epidemic among pro athletes.

Sports Illustrated found (and ESPN corroborated) that “by the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress,” and “60 percent of former NBA players have gone broke within five years of retirement.”

Let that soak in. Almost three of every four NFL and NBA pro athletes — virtually all millionaires — are in financial trouble soon after leaving the game.

A starting lineup of financial-distress examples could include Terrell Owens, Lawrence Taylor, Michael Vick, Deuce McAllister and Bernie Kosar in football, and Allen Iverson, Scottie Pippen, Latrell Sprewell and Antoine Walker in basketball.

This is not limited to those sports. Skater Dorothy Hamill, baseball players Lenny Dykstra, Rollie Fingers and Jack Clark, boxer Mike Tyson and pro golfer John Daly all have seen their millions disappear.

There are a number of reasons why, but it all comes down to a lack of financial responsibility. Still, the pressures of dealing with so much money at such a young age create pressures that few of us can fully appreciate.

“The temptation is to think that we’re bystanders or third-party participants, that we’re inherently different,” wrote Tim Maurer of Forbes magazine. “But we’re not. What we see in the financial mismanagement of athletes is merely a magnification of the worst that lies in all of us regarding money.”

Indeed, extravagant lifestyles, vices, bad business decisions and failed marriages (60 percent of married NFL players are divorced within three years of retirement) all have roles.

One player called it winning the “Ghetto Lottery,” referring to athletes who have grown up economically disadvantaged and suddenly find millions at their discretion.

Mansions, expensive cars and jewelry soon follow. What also follows is a number of hangers-on, friends and family who now expect to share in the wealth. Former Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar said in his bankruptcy proceedings that he was supporting as many as 50 friends and family members at one point.

Drugs and gambling also take down many, as evidenced by the reckless path of golfer John Daly.

Still others are drawn to bad business decisions. As bankrupt Andre Rison wryly observed, why is it that every athlete thinks they have to own a car wash? Indeed, the appeal of more conventional investment methods is often spurned.

Finally, especially with male athletes, the appeal of young female companions opens the wallet with frequency. At the height of Michael Jordan’s tenure with the Washington Wizards, one restaurant owner reports it was not uncommon for 2,000 or more women to instantly show up after the star arrived.

In response to it all, efforts are underway to better educate young athletes on financial responsibility. The success of that effort is problematic.

Throwing outrageous money at a young athlete short-circuits the financial learning process that many of us go through on the way up the job ladder.

When that cash is gained in disproportionate value to the work involved, a respect for those efforts is sometimes lost. Vince Young is just the latest example.

As Maurer observed, money is a tool that can be used to great effect to magnify the impact of our foolishness, and also our wisdom and discernment.

But when money becomes an adornment, when richness becomes a personality trait, and when wealth becomes an advertisement or proposition, that tool can make even the richest of us poor.

Rick Morwick is sports editor for the Daily Journal

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