Young Athletes Can Learn From Terrell Owens and Drew Rosenhaus. They Need Advisors, Not Agents

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It seems as if there have been a large number of former athletes, NFL players in particular, who have experienced financial and personal difficulties.  One of those athletes has been record-setting receiver Terrell Owens, who fired his agent today. The difficulties these athletes face have led to everything from bankruptcy to sadly, sometimes suicide. All talk of the effects of concussions aside, there seems to be a bigger issue here.

One of the first things any pro athlete does upon declaring themselves a professional is to hire an agent.  Agents are supposed to handle accounting and legal issues, negotiate contracts, and provide advice about signing deals.

In addition, they also market the athlete (they call them clients) to certain businesses in order to maximize exposure and gain endorsements.  All of this for between 3 and 10 percent of the total amount of cash an athlete earns.

The nature of the sports agency business forces them to be concerned about one thing: the bottom line.  The vast majority of agents are just looking for their own payday.

They are not looking out for the well-being of the athlete unless their own payday is threatened.  They certainly do not care about the athletes once their playing days are up and the athlete has no marketable value.  This begs the question: Why retain an agent?

If I were advising a young athlete, especially an NFL player, I would tell them to fire their agent the second their first contract is signed.  Pay the agent what you owe, and then cut all ties.  10 percent, even if you make tens of millions of dollars, is too much to pay someone to market you.  In the age of social networking, so long as you have basic math and verbal skills, you are fully capable of marketing yourself and negotiating your own contract and endorsement deals.  You don't need an agent for this.  All you need is an actual lawyer.  I guarantee you they'll charge less than 10% of your contract to look over paperwork and make sure you are not getting a raw deal.

Once you have a lawyer you trust, invest in yourself and take a business math class at a local community college if you haven't already taken one.  I see too many millionaire athletes lose their fortunes and go on to claim that their money was stolen from them, often by agents.  Money is money, whether you have $1000 or $1,000,000.

Learning how to manage it yourself will become invaluable as you grow older and progress in your career.  Think about this: If an athlete who receives a $10 million signing bonus (after taxes) puts half of it in a simple savings account with a 1% interest rate, it will kick out $50,000 a year in interest.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage in the U.S. is just over $45,000 a year. 

What does this all mean?  Quite simply, if the only money an athlete ever saves is $5 million dollars, they should be able to afford a 2-3 bedroom home, drive a $25,000 car, and buy a $2 cup of coffee every day for the rest of their life with only the interest yielded from that initial $5 million.  They should never be broke.

The problems are greed, lack of education, and not having the right people around them.  Sports agents are the complete opposite of what you need to combat these problems.  Their careers are based on greed, trying to get the athlete as much money as possible so they too can make as much money as possible.  They want to do everything they can for the athlete in order to keep the client ignorant and uneducated.  This gives them job security.

There may be athletes out there who say "No, my agent is different. He cares about me and my family."  No he doesn't.  Jerry Maguire was a movie.  That guy doesn't exist.  Even the guy Jerry Maguire is loosely based on had serious character flaws and paid for them throughout his life. 

The truth is, sports agents are just like you and me.  Some are lawyers, however, many are not.  They love sports and money and passed a certification exam to practice as an agent in a specific sport or league.  That's it.  That, personally, does not qualify a person to run my money and market my name and face to the tune of a 10 percent cut.

It's not impossible to act as your own agent.  Byron Leftwich and more recently Osi Umenyiora have done it.  Everything I read seems to point at those negotiations going much smoother than those involving over-bearing agents who try to drive up prices in order to receive a bigger paycheck, meanwhile tarnishing the athlete's name in the court of public opinion. 

Also understand how much you have to lose.  I can't tell you how many times I shake my head upon hearing about athletes, most recently Justin Blackmon, who get busted for DUI.  If I made the NFL league minimum, currently $375,000 a year, there is no possible way I'd drive myself anywhere I knew I'd be drinking. 

Surely you have hoards of "friends" more than willing to give an NFL star a lift for a night on the town.  Even if you don't have friends, splurge and hire a limo for the night.  Better yet, since he is supposedly so concerned for your wellbeing, maybe your agent should give you a lift.  Bottom line: No professional athlete should ever be at risk of getting ticketed for DUI. 

The overall point is that young athletes need to "smarten up", start seeking financial, personal, and image advice from people with a minimum amount to gain from helping you.  It could end up saving you millions of dollars and perhaps even one day, your life.