Each time a professional athlete is arrested for a crime, and there are many of them, it raises important questions and highlights a tragedy. While these incredibly talented young athletes had the tenacity to pursue and perform under intense pressure to reach the pinnacle of their careers, they did not gather the tools or the skills along the way to cope with stressful situations and transition into an alternate professional career.
Bernard Robinson, an ex-NBA player, and Larry Stevens, an ex-NFL player, are trying to help younger athletes. They offer counseling and crisis management services to athletes who face difficult situations during their athletic careers and assist them in making a smooth transition to a successful, professional life at the end of their career.
A rookie drafted into a major league tends to be in his or her high-teens or early-twenties with a singular focus on the game. Raw talent and dogged tenacity help them plow toward getting selected by the top college teams and ultimately being drafted by a league. To perform outstandingly well as a player, whether it be in college or as a professional, requires athletes to devote all their time and energy to the sport itself. To meet graduation requirements, many college athletes pick an easy major, not because they are interested in the subject or have a plan to pursue the field beyond their sports career.
According to Sports Illustrated, within two years of retirement, a whopping 78% of NFL players are either bankrupt or fall into financial distress. The statistics point to the fact that more than three-fourths of the players either can’t manage their money by themselves or employ financial advisors (to pay bills, manage their cash and make investment decisions) who do not know how to manage their money well. Jay Hughes, an ex-Mississippi state football player, says, “I see a lot of guys who don’t even know how to fill out a checking deposit slip at a bank.”
The astounding statistics might be the outcome of hard upbringings, the absence of an astute role model, excessive spending and the lack of investment savvy and education. Many of these athletes are being managed by too many people with selfish agendas. Gerri Walsh, of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, told CBS News that short careers and “family members, financial advisers, and others [who] put a target on their backs for potential scams” contribute to the problem.
I met with Robinson and Stevens. After a career at the University of Michigan, where he helped lead the Wolverines to the 2004 NIT title, Robinson was a second-round draft pick of the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2004 NBA draft. Stevens played college football at the University of Michigan from 2000 to 2003. He also played professional football for the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2004 and 2005 NFL seasons.
“I grew up in the inner city of Washington D.C.," Robinson says. "I lived in Southeast DC on 30th street close to Alabama Avenue, which at that time and still is, the most dangerous part of the Washington DC area. Later, At the age of 15, I moved to Northeast DC right off Benning road, which was another high crime area.”
At a very young age, Robinson witnessed abandoned guns in the alleys, saw drug-dealers outside his front door and experienced drive-by shootings. He recalled the intense peer pressure to join neighborhood crews and do bad.
“I was always so fortunate due to basketball and sports in general," he says. "I picked up the ball at the early age of 10 and that created many paths for me.”
Larry Stevens grew up on the south side of Tacoma, Washington, which he says is the most dangerous city in Washington State.
"My father left us when I was four, and the biggest struggle when I was growing up was staying out of trouble," he says. "I was surrounded by gangs, and I can remember at least four different teachers and two principles telling me that I was never going to be anyone and that I would never make it. During my life, repeatedly, I heard these dire predictions, and had to live through people going out of their way to make sure of it.”
Stevens and Robinson are now working as interventionists. They are trying to prevent athletes from getting into trouble and assisting them in making a smooth transition to a new life at the end of their sports career. Both Stevens and Robinson have been in the trenches and can relate to the experiences of many of these athletes. Robinson’s company, Exigency One, offers crisis prevention/management services to high profile athletes. Crises could be: having a fight with a girlfriend, brawl at a club, a DUI or carrying a weapon across state lines. A bad decision in such situations can lead to their name showing up in the newspaper or “at the bottom of ESPN ticker.” Such an event can damage their name, brand and potential income. Stevens’s company, PACC Pro, offers advice to athletes on how to transition into the business world. It is a membership-based marketplace and a vetted network that connects the sports, entertainment, military and business communities. PACC provides mentorship, resources and support to help athletes break the boundary between professional sports, military, entertainment, and the business world. Successful athletes are not successful by accident. They have applied a lifetime of hard work, dedication, sweat, and tears to achieve their success. They are the best of the best because they’ve chosen such commitment on daily basis. In time, they begin to believe in the perpetuity and invincibility of their success. They get surrounded by super fans, whether family, friends or strangers, that reinforce this attitude. Egos get bloated and hubris sets in. Chad Warpula, a partner at the international law firm of Troutman Sanders LLP where he leads the firm’s Sports Practice, and has worked with numerous professional athletes, leagues, teams and organizations. He says, “Unfortunately, however, many find out the hard way they are not the “best of the best” at the things that will sustain them in their career of life. They do not understand or appreciate brand-building, marketing, financial investing, wealth building, legal protections and core business attributes that will enable them to turn their success on the field into success in life.” Warpula further states, "They need to apply the same level of alacrity, determination, and wisdom to the life successes as they do their talent achievements. Once they begin to view their talent on the field or in the arena as means to success in life, rather than success itself, they’ll start making the decisions that will sustain them long term. No one plans to be broke; it is only those that plan not to be that end up not.”