by Mike Vogel
Updated 1 decade ago
Tampa Bay Bucs cornerback E.J. Biggers is determined to avoid the financially destructive behavior that has wrecked the finances of many athletes. He drives a 5-year-old Dodge, has a weekly allowance, shares the rent on an apartment with a friend and has saved up 20 months of living expenses to prepare for a lockout. [Photo: Brian Smith]
Around 2,190 pro athletes take advantage of Florida's lack of an income tax, making the state home to more active professional athletes than any other state, ahead of
California (1,050), North Carolina (920), Missouri (740) and Maryland (610). Fort Lauderdale has more pro athletes than any other metropolitan statistical area in the country.
Top Metros in Florida
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational employment statistics
Note: State data was unavailable for Arizona, and metro data was unavailable for Tampa Bay.
Late-round choices like Biggers are long shots to even make an NFL roster. Biggers not only made the team, but also started at cornerback last year. Now he has his eyes on beating another set of odds: Not becoming part of the 78% of all NFL players whom Sports Illustrated found are bankrupt or under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce within two years of retiring.
With no guaranteed contracts, NFL players are particularly susceptible to financial trouble. But athletes from other sports, from baseball to basketball, also drop the financial ball. Four years after winning a world championship with the Miami Heat, Antoine Walker found himself not on a basketball court — but in a Miami bankruptcy court. Some 60% of NBA players are broke five years after retiring, SI says.
Along with making mistakes born of poor judgment or good intentions gone overboard , young athletes aren't any better at picking good financial advisers than Bernie Madoff's older, more sophisticated victims were. In December, New Jersey regulators revoked the broker registration of two financial advisers who built a practice on professional baseball players, including former Marlins, Mets and Rays outfielder Cliff Floyd, now a broadcaster based in Florida, and former major leaguer Rondell White.
Floyd and White are suing the brokers in federal court in New Jersey for securities fraud over a combined $2.25 million lost in a real estate deal. Floyd is separately suing in New York over another $1.8 million allegedly misappropriated in a different deal. "They trusted these guys. They had been clients for 15 years," says the players' attorney in New York, Jeffrey L. Rosenberg.
Former defensive lineman Chidi Ahanotu, who began to focus on his long-term future after his sixth year in the NFL, cautions players: "Don't buy anything, because the NFL career is short. Don't spend a dime. Live the same way you did in college." Ahanotu now helps train athletes at Elite Gamespeed in Tampa and is president and CEO of Magellan Entertainment, a management company for athletes and other clients.
[Photo: Michael Heape]
Most of the coverage of the suicide in Sunny Isles Beach of two-time Super Bowl winner and retired Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson focused on the repeated concussions he'd suffered as a player — and his donation of his brain to researchers studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an affliction caused by repeated brain injury. Less noted was the financial trauma Duerson had experienced from a financially contentious divorce, a soured business venture and a bankruptcy.
Against $14.7 million in liabilities, Duerson, a Notre Dame economics degree holder and a graduate of a Harvard executive program, had only one sizable asset, a 6-year-old uncollected $34.6 million judgment from a business venture that had failed. Duerson had been developing a financial literacy program for former players.
Athletes' short career spans create incentives for them, or their advisers, to look for home-run returns by making high-risk investments.
|Ahanotu cautions players about the dangers from some financial advisers. "If you do get a financial adviser, get yourself a financial auditor to go along with it and now you have someone to check the adviser."|
"The problem isn't athletes," says Ed Butowsky, a Dallas money manager. "It's the people who advise them." In February, he says he was in south Florida meeting with seven NFL players who say they've been ripped off to the tune of $45 million. "There are a lot of lawsuits that are about to start flying around the state."
Money manager Ed Butowsky likes to see 75% to 80% of an athlete's investments in public securities. Once an athlete has $3 million saved, a private equity investment of no more than 5%, with safeguards, can be tolerated. [Photo: LM Otero/AP]
In his search for good advice, Biggers followed the counsel of his cousin, Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, to a group led by financial advisers Aaron Parthemer and Sylvester King Jr. at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Fort Lauderdale.
Haslem "told me he lost a lot of money doing different things with other financial advisers," Biggers says. "The No. 1 thing (Parthemer) told me, in my first year he wasn't going to let me invest my money in anything."
Parthemer wants rookies to be in money-market equivalents that they can't tap on a daily basis as they learn about risk and budgeting. He structures the investments so the players can avoid market meltdowns at a career stage when they may need liquidity. Football, unlike the NBA and MLB, has no guarantees. Case in point: Biggers. He's not disclosed what his four-year contract is worth. But even at the league minimum, he has to have signed for north of $1.2 million. However, he was injured in the preseason his first year and his contract wasn't guaranteed. The second year went according to contract but now the lockout looms over his third year.
Starting 11 years ago with a single player who found himself in a financial mess and came to them for advice, Parthemer's and King's athlete practice has grown to 44 — mostly NFL players, but including a half-dozen pros from the NBA and baseball. Their group consists largely of midround picks they hope will grow into long-term players with the salary and assets to be profitable clients.
Their roster includes six Pro Bowl players, including Eagles Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, who came to them after he became dissatisfied with previous advisers. Athletes represent about $50 million of their assets under management, with another $200 million from corporate executives, professionals, retirees and lottery winners.
"I'm more the numbers guy," Parthemer says. "Slyvester is the father figure." When an athlete wants to buy a new car, Parthemer will say, "That's a beautiful car. I'm going to crunch some numbers. Why don't you talk to Sylvester?"
King provides his likely response to the athlete: "Absolutely not."
Parthemer's downtown office has wall-to-wall autographed balls and bobble-head figures of clients. "At the end of the day, they're real people with real problems" and can be high maintenance, he says. He acknowledges that there is sizzle. "Can I say it was nice to stand next to Gisele (quarterback Tom Brady's wife, who is a model) waiting for the Patriots to come out?"
In contrast, up the road in Boca Raton, the office of Edward Ventrice, a CPA and financial adviser who has mostly baseball players for clients, is devoid of sports references except for a UF Gator poster from his alma mater. He says he takes in just one baseball game a year. He isn't in awe of athletes, referring to one client as "supposed to be the next great whatever."
Michael Bober (left) and Edward Ventrice, who work out of Boca Raton, represent some 45 baseball players, including a dozen All-Stars. Their roster also includes hockey players.
"It's a combination of the adviser and the
athlete's fault. They don't listen to the adviser, and they get bad advice."
— CPA/financial adviser Edward Ventrice
Ventrice and Bober owe their success to being CPAs. Their technical background allowed them to click in a 1994 audition with the accountant-run management organization owned by a baseball super agent. They're one of the small number of financial adviser groups allowed to pitch the agent's clients and have landed, among some 45 baseball players, the last two No. 1 picks in the baseball draft, along with a dozen All-Stars, and two future Hall-of-Famers. Their roster also includes hockey players.
Ventrice says the firm's selling point to prospects is that it now — at 17 years — can show how it has seen players through from the draft to retirement. Ventrice says veterans like seeing a spreadsheet showing how much they'll have to live on annually for the rest of their lives based on their current savings. He is blunt: Give to charity but don't start a foundation — "a waste of time and energy." Concentrate on your sport and send everyone with a business deal to him. With rare exceptions for income-producing property, he rejects them.
Ventrice and Bober liken a pro's earnings window to that of an entrepreneur who sells a business built over a lifetime. Another one won't come along, so invest conservatively: 60% in ultra-safe investments, 25% in aggressive stocks and the rest in commodities, precious metals and other alternatives.
Parthemer and King move rookies to muni bonds and similarly safe investments in their second year and "a little bit more aggressive" investments as the career progresses. "We need the sure things. They're always going to find something off on the side that will give them that high level of risk," Parthemer says.
"I'm a safe guy. I do a lot of safe investments and bonds. Stick to the budget," says Asante Samuel (center), pictured with financial advisers Aaron Parthemer (left) and Sylvester King Jr. [Photo: Jeffrey Salter]
Consider Samuel, who owns a record label even though Parthemer and King decry such investments. Parthemer has a distinct memory of Samuel saying, "I'm not letting you talk me out of this." Provided an athlete has solid savings put aside, invested safely, and limits how much he can lose on something speculative, Parthemer will agree to a risky investment. Samuel always has been a saver, Parthemer says.
Says Samuel, who made north of $9 million last season, "I'm a safe guy. I do a lot of safe investments and bonds. Stick to the budget."
Meanwhile, Biggers, 23, the Bucs defensive back, takes small steps. He is financially focused, once telling the St. Petersburg Times that one of his two most visited websites was his bank's site, where he keeps an eye on his account. He lives on a weekly allowance and has to call Parthemer if he wants to tap other funds. "I talk to a lot of other guys on my team, and they say you have an allowance. That's smart," Biggers says.
Biggers saved 20 months of living expenses to prepare for the lockout. He says he keeps his expenses low. Like other NFL players, he has to pay a personal trainer. He also helped his mother move into a home in a better neighborhood to raise his little brother. But he drives a 5-year-old Dodge Charger and to avoid temptation, he doesn't socialize much with athletes well out of his income bracket. He shares the rent on a North Miami apartment with boyhood friend Louis Delmas, who plays for the Detroit Lions.
Parthemer says Biggers is "one of the top guys I've ever met" in terms of his approach. "He's not calling us up and saying, 'I'm thinking about this new Bentley. I'm thinking about this new Rolls-Royce.' It's more about take care of his mom and younger brother and building something for himself first. He really is a saver. I don't think I've seen him spend anything on the luxury side. After two years in the NFL, that's hard to do."
Biggers even has a general plan for a career in counseling or coaching after football. He knows the stories of players ending their careers with no plan and no money. "I don't want to be like that."