Looking at NFL Player Development from a different angle (3)

Over the past two weeks the Football Educator reiterated its call for a comprehensive Player Development Program at the NFL club level.  The needless death of Junior Seau hit home the necessity for a career plan to help current and former players navigate the issues they deal with on and off the field.  As addressed earlier, “This program is designed to enhance the performance of players in six integrated areas; mental, physical, spiritual, social, intellectual and financial.”

Part 3 of TFE’s 3 part series looks at the need for Financial Development.

A new way to think

I’ve called for individualized and detailed programs that address the singular needs of NFL players, using outside expertise and counsel to supplement internal resources.  I’ve discussed requirements for social, spiritual and intellectual development, taking into account a generation of player highly visual and extremely capable of a multi-tasking learning environment.

The use of technologies in data formats and 3-D animation have made the “black & white” obsolete in today’s playbooks.  There’s also no escaping the importance of fostering a strong spiritual environment in an industry putting undue stress upon its participants at every turn.

Stay out of my business

Most argue professional football is a business, and that there’s no room for League or Club management to parent its employees on a daily basis.  They’ll say players have been educated, at a minimum briefed, on the pitfalls of pro sports.  Expectations are high because of the money involved.  You “play for pay”.  If you don’t, we’ll find those who will.

It’s hard to fathom another industry that rewards entry level workers in the manner of professional sports.  This financial prospect is singularly the greatest opportunity afforded to young athletes.  Where can a 21 or 22 year old begin any vocation with a $390,000 base salary, regardless of ability?

Some programs in place

The NFL and NFLPA attempt to address this very issue in the CBA (Article 51, Sec. 12) under Career Planning Program.  Both the League and the Union committed to: “…continue their programs to provide information to current and former players concerning financial advisors and financial advisory firms and shall jointly (at the Annual Rookie Symposia and otherwise) and separately develop new methods to educate such players concerning the risks of various investment strategies and products, as well as the provision of any background investigation services.”

There are programs for Tuition Assistance, Retirement Plans, Second Career Savings Plans and a number of new benefits directed at the concerns of the aging veteran/former player pool; all very noble and well intended causes, each with its own positive benefits.  But unless built into an ongoing, closely monitored, and highly structured program (explained in a manner that players understand) they’re just CYA check marks.

Do it yourself

If the League lacks the leverage to make these programs a mandatory part of employment, then Clubs should take it upon themselves to incorporate financial education and responsibility as a mandatory part of their culture.  I hear the cries “You can’t force any player to participate!”  Those cries fall upon deaf ears.

“Separately develop new methods to educate such players”.  That means thinking outside the box.  That means taking responsibility for a very privileged few.  That means caring about the individual.  That means “high maintenance management”.

So let’s think outside the box for a moment.  What about a club Financial Advisor and Business Development Director?

Mission: Identify and coordinate business development opportunities and post-playing career opportunities.  Advise on money management strategies in accordance with existing CBA guidelines, and working in conjunction with current NFL & NFLPA programs.

Can’t afford not to

More than any area of the Player Performance Council, this member will have to be understanding of “conflicts of interest”.  But make them readily available and an integral part of the Player Development Plan.  The Agent Community attempts to fill this vacancy by offering their own programs.  Let’s not leave that to chance, nor necessarily to that interest.

Jack Bechta, certified NFLPA Agent, recently wrote a post on “Ten Reasons Why NFL Players Go Broke”.  Each reason is avoidable through proper ongoing education and training.  Tough to administer? Yes.  100% effectiveness?  No.

NFL owners should put upon their organizations a goal of no “bankrupt” current or former players.  Ensure that their players take full advantage of a RARE window of opportunity, but afforded to a young generation during tough economic times.

There’s a lot of good being done on behalf of NFL players, but lessons continue through the “School of Hard Knocks”.  In a copy cat League a comprehensive Player Development Program just needs one success story…who’s it going to be?

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