Bucs speedy cornerback Phillip Buchanon is quick to admit: When he was a first-round draft pick, he had no idea how to handle his newfound wealth.
"All I knew was how to spend money — and give it to my family," he said, grinning. "You learn the hard way."
But Buchanon never stopped learning. During the 2007 offseason, he enrolled in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program at both Harvard and Northwestern (110 players applied for the seminars last year). He wants to start his own business after his playing days, and the four-day cram session taught him that, with all the horror stories of athletes going broke due to fraud and overspending, some of the best deals are ones you don't make.
"I learned the difference between football and business," said Buchanon, 27. "In business, it's okay to stand on the sidelines."
But many professional athletes are taking a more active approach with their finances, while showing a flair for entrepreneurial endeavors.
There's retired NFL lineman Ross Tucker, who did internships at Merrill Lynch and started an online business in his offseasons. There's Mavericks guard Jason Kidd, who had a short stint on Wall Street, and Panthers receiver Steve Smith, who got involved with Morgan Stanley. Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece monitors his stocks after practices, and Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich runs a bar in Texas and manages a band.
Just two months after the NFL draft and with the baseball, NHL and NBA drafts this month, many athletes will find themselves in league-mandated training sessions on budgeting, 401(k)s and security.
For some, as Magic forward Tony Battie, 32, said, "It will go in one ear and out the other." But with pro careers fleeting (typical NFL stint is 3.3 years), veterans are saying of financial planning: don't wait until it's too late.
"I'm not complaining — there's a lot of money in this game to be made," said Rays reliever Trever Miller, 35. "But it is a challenge to decide what to do with it. I think every ballplayer has a fear, especially middle-market guys, of losing it. Once you get it, everybody automatically thinks you're set for life. You're a multimillionaire. It's not the case."
'It's like a side job'
The case studies of athletes' wealth gone wrong are well-documented.
• An NFL Players Association survey found that at least 78 players were defrauded of more than $42-million between 1999 and 2002 alone.
• The NBA Players Association said that 3 to 6 percent of retired players go broke five years after paychecks cease.
How does it happen? Sometimes, it's bad business decisions. Many times, it's overspending. But according to several athletes and advisers, part of it is that many players are, like many young people, unprepared to handle their newfound wealth.
Battie said the numbers in contracts are like a "mirage." A five-year, $20-million deal can be less than $10-million due to taxes in some states and other fees.
Nece, 29, said athletes, especially younger ones, fail to leave their competitive edge on the field and try to keep up with the Joneses — the veterans — with their cars, their clothes. Never mind that playing careers are short and the money may need to last for decades.
Athletes are often peppered with business proposals. Nece said he has been approached with six this year. Rays rookie third baseman Evan Longoria, 22, who recently signed a long-term deal that could be worth more than $44-million, said he was approached in a restaurant parking lot by someone who wanted to peddle a new sports drink in the clubhouse.
Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams, 25, a first-round pick in 2007, said he's greeted in hometown restaurants by people he doesn't know, asking for a handout.
"That's the hardest part of having to deal with outside people," he said. "They say that we are family members, but you've never heard of them before."
Most athletes hire a financial adviser who generally charges between one-half and 2 percent. Advisers may do everything from managing investments and offering advice to detailing budgets and paying bills. Longoria checks in with his sometimes twice a week, and he monitors his money online. Nece said he augments outside help by learning more on his own, and he has five or six stocks he keeps track of online.
"It's like a side job," Nece said. "But it's important. These young guys coming in with the amount of money these guys are getting, to me it's almost imperative they learn how to do some things and learn what their money is doing."
'It's not going to last forever'
Magic guard Pat Garrity, 31, said it wasn't until his senior year at Notre Dame, when he took a "finance class for nonfinance majors," that he learned about how the stock market works.
Today, the nine-year veteran consistently reads books on business — his favorites are When Genius Failed about a long-term hedge fund that failed, and Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk.
The first paper he reads is the Wall Street Journal, but he always digs deeper. He feels so in tune, he has parted ways with his financial adviser and handles his index funds and small portfolio. But he's always looking for more education.
Each league educates its players on finances through rookie seminars, and the NFL continues with four sessions their second season and a "financial checkup" in the third year. For security, the NFL does background checks to make an approved list of financial advisers, and the NBA offers free financial audits to make sure players are not overcharged.
"You've seen enough guys burned over the years," Tucker said. "It becomes a situation where they don't trust anybody."
Tucker, who was an undrafted free agent in 2001, still has an adviser but took charge from the beginning. His signing bonus went to paying off his student loans at Princeton ($20,000), and he quickly worked at his career after football. Between internships at Merrill Lynch, he earned his securities license. He also learned his father-in-law's propane business "from the ground up," taking fuel trucks out for service calls.
Tucker was frugal, still driving his 1990 Jeep Cherokee his first couple of years. After an injury ended his career in 2007, he began gobigrecruiting.com, which allows high school football players to put their highlight films online.
Tucker, who also writes for SI.com, said not enough players take advantage of what a pro career gives you. He said he'd spend time making connections with business people, and when the NFL would offer extra seminars or a "Broadcasting Boot Camp," he'd jump at it.
"What more guys should realize as soon as possible is how short your NFL career really is," said Tucker, 29. "How critical it is that pretty much as soon as you sign that contract, even though you put your heart and soul into football, you still have enough free time to think about what else you want out of life.
"The only thing you know for sure is, once you sign, that it's not going to last forever."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.