Movie Night: From Millionaire to ‘Broke’

There’s big money in sports. Just look at last week’s New York Time’s article: “What Made College Football More Like the Pros? $7.3 Billion, for a Start.”

Alabama’s Nick Saban (former head coach of the Miami Dolphins) made $7 million this season. In 2007, he signed an eight-year contract guaranteeing him $32 million, plus bowl-game incentives. Meanwhile, University of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh‘s (yes, the Jim Harbaugh that led the 49ers to the Super Bowl XLVII in 2013) making at least $35 million over seven years (this number doesn’t include incentives for going to the playoffs or winning the championship, of course).   

For years, we’ve heard about the big money in sports — and not just in football (or coaching). A Rod reportedly made $272 million (over 10 years) for signing with the Yankees.  Golfer Tiger Woods is worth $61.2 million — with $55 million tied in endorsements (most notably from Nike). And Forbes ranked boxer Floyd Mayweather in the No. 1 spot with $105 million in earning for fights with Marcos Maidana and Canelo Alvarez. (Speaking of boxing for money, Muhammed Ali accepted an $8-million deal to come out of retirement and fight Larry Holmes in 1980). 

But there’s a cost to all this (and not just in concussions). It creates a culture focuses on sports rather than academics. Perhaps you remember Ohio State Buckeye’s Cardale Jones’ infamous Tweet from 2012?

Jones posted this on Oct. 5, 2012, after a sociology exam.

Director Billy Corben examines this with his 2012 ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “Broke.”

The premise of the 77-minute film comes from a March 2009 Sports’ Illustrated article written by Pablo Torre, who illustrates a growing and disturbing trend. The majority of these star millionaire athletes are going bankrupt within two to five years of retirement.

New York Times’ business and opinion columnist Joe Nocera explains this phenomenon with the “sudden wealth effect,” which he likens to winning the lottery at 21 years old.

“It’s like you become the CEO of a company before you can do the job,” someone says.

“If you felt that if you look good, you play good, they’d pay good,” says former NFL offensive lineman Leon Searcy.

Searcy’s only one of the star athletes Corben enlists to tell their story. We hear from more than a dozen athletes from the NBA’s Jamal Washburn; to the MBL’s Curt Schilling, Cliff Floyd and Homer Bush; and NFL stars like Dante Wesley, Sean Salisbury, Keith McCants, Eugene Lockhart, Winfred Tubbs, Herman Edwards and Andre Rison.

According to them, this wealth and bankruptcy’s part of the larger sports culture, which came into fruition in the 1980s as the value of contracts and signing bonuses increased. Athletes were spending an exorbitant amount of money, draped in chains, gambling and making it rain in clubs.

“You were spending two to three grand easy going to the club,” says Searcy. “You were talking about an entire mortgage at a club.”

Part of the reason for this is pride. Players are insanely competitive, wanting to show off their wealth and success. Others, like Bernie Kosar of the Cleveland Browns, entrusted the wrong people with his wealth. Money causes problems in relationships and at least 3 out of 5 pro athletes end their marriages with a costly divorce. Meanwhile, athletes used to a lavish “MTV Cribs” lifestyle are suckers for bad investments and taken advantaged by the people they’ve entrusted — from gold diggers to financial advisors to even friends and family members. They invest in the now rather than the future, forgetting the cost of tomorrow’s medical bills and child support payments.

Corben maps the evolution with The Notorious B.I.G., Mase and Puff Daddy’s hit 1997 single “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” and the hip-hop culture. In addition to exclusive interviews, the documentary contains a lot of archival footage and news clips, noting the didactic stories from the Mike Tysons to the Michael Vicks.

But most of all, these 77 minutes offers something supposedly omitted from college sports’ cirriculms. It’s gives players like Cardale Jones an education and insight into a possible future as well as its alternative.

“Broke” was directed by Billy Corben as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30″ documentary series. To read more film reviews, visit Liu’s blog at:


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