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MIAMI (CBSMiami) –It’s the kind of money most of us could only dream of especially to play a game. Yet everyday professional athletes cash checks for millions of dollars.
Remarkably, more than half of them will go broke within a few years of retiring. Now a group of athletes and business people are setting out to try and change that.
Phillip Buchanon lived large before he even made it in football. The University of Miami Football superstar won a national championship. He followed that up going in the first round of the NFL draft.
“Once I signed, I had already spent about a million dollars already,” Buchanon recalls. “On what?” CBS4’s David Sutta asked. “Just spending money.” he said with a smile.
He was a kid with nothing and then suddenly a millionaire overnight. The media reported on his $12 million dollar,five year contract.
“I walked around college like I was a millionaire already so that kind of helped me. And I was projected to be first round draft pick. So I knew the money was coming. I wish I had a better approach towards buying the cars and buying the houses and just spending money that I didn’t really have yet,” he said.
Buchanon remembers his first check for a whopping $4 million. Then came the shock. Taxes cut that check in half. He was already a million dollars in debt from living large. His family came after what was left.
In a book due out next month Buchanon reveals his uncle threatened to rob him and that his own mother demanded a million dollars.
“She said don’t ever send me a card. Don’t ever send me flowers. If it’s not money, don’t send it.” Buchanon said.
As fast as it came in it went. It’s a familiar tale that athletes shared in the 2012 documentary Broke. Director Billy Corben found a recurring theme among all the athletes who had lost it all.
“The tragedy of this situation is, is that it’s avoidable. The reason it’s avoidable is it seems the young athletes are making the same mistakes that the previous athletes have made. And if they could just learn those lessons then they wouldn’t be doomed to repeat them,” Corben said.
Corben pointed out that most of us earn more as we get older and wiser. For athletes, it’s the opposite.
“They are making the most money they ever going to make in their lives essentially in their 20’s,” said Corben.
Nandy Serrano shook his head in agreement and said,”I agree with Billy 100%.”
Serrano, a former baseball player, traded his cleats for dress shoes 23 years ago. As a financial planner life after baseball was good but not for his buddies.
“When I started seeing how many of them were being taken advantage of, and they were losing their money, millions of dollars,” Serrano said. ‘
He said the two biggest mistakes players make are allowing family to manage your money and getting married young.
“There is a 85% divorce rate in professional sports,” said Serrano.
Nandy is trying to break the go for broke mold. An annual Life after Sports symposium puts athletes in the room with retired pros so they can hear about the mistakes of others.
The forum, which took place last week at Marlins Ballpark, was standing room only. The room was filled with athletes current and retired, businessmen, and family members of both. Buchanon sat on a panel in front of the group along with other notable retired pros. Some who lost it all and some who managed to save a few dollars.
“You have to do what’s right for you because when you are done playing it’s over with, ” Buchanon told the crowd. Others echoed his comments, even advising to cut off family before they clean you out.
Ricardo “Ricky” Bones, a former Miami Marlin, is one of the fortunate ones. When he signed his contract in 1986 he received a $60,000 signing bonus. That’s roughly $125,000 in today’s money. His middle class parents stepped in, advising him to save half and spend the other. He got his brand new Cutlass Supreme and banked the rest. As his career advanced he said so did the cars, the houses and the jewelry. And then he saw his teammates lose it all. It was an important lesson he learned early.
“Anybody can buy the toy. It’s how are you going to maintain that toy. You can buy the house. How are you going to maintain the house?” Bones said.
Buchanon was lucky. He played in the league three times longer than the average player. It meant he had time to make mistakes.
He admits that if he had lasted three years in the league he would likely have been left with nothing. He also credits Corben’s documentary for waking him up.
“That documentary actually motivated me. So I want to thank you for making that,” he said.
Buchanon retired a few years ago and is authoring children’s books and an autobiography due out in March. All of it centered on helping people learn from his mistakes.
He laughed while saying, “When you get your first check… don’t do what I did. Simple as that. Just do better than me.”
Nandy Serrano’s Life After Sports program is hopeful that the discussions he’s cultivating can change the tide but it won’t be easy. He estimates there are 2,500 pro athletes living in South Florida, many of them headed for broke.