A Second Helping of…Billionaires vs. millionaires

America is the land of opportunity.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the NFL.  After all, this is a place where Roger Goodell (the son of a US Senator), Joe Ellis (the nephew and cousin of US Presidents), and Jets owner Woody Johnson (the grandson of the founder of Johnson & Johnson) can rise up from humble beginnings and make their way in the world today with everything they've got.

$9 billion later, these self-made men (and others just like them all across the league) are doing their absolute best to share the milk and honey with the National Football League Player's Association (NFLPA).

If only the nefarious NFLPA would let them.

Goodell, our tired and exhausted hero, has bravely reduced his salary to $1.  He's also told fans that the NFL's owners offered several concessions to the players, including five years of "profitability data."  In addition, Joe Ellis (Pat Bowlen's trusty sidekick) has been hitting the PR circuit so that Broncos fans everywhere know, without a doubt, the organization's willingness to open its books.  Unfortunately, the players listened to an insidious investment bank, which advised the NFLPA that that so-called profitability data neither illuminates true cash flows nor provides insight into wasteful spending.  

The demonic forces within the NFLPA listened.  Bring in the lawyers.

Perhaps you've heard.  The fans just want their game back, as if there is a bread line downtown where middle-aged men stand in line for hours on end wearing Tebow jerseys so they can get their slice of the bleached and vitamin-enriched NFL.

No one wants to wait in line, though - even for the tastiest of bread.  So instead, the fans have run for the cliff; like lemmings, they've chanted, "We don't care about billionaires versus millionaires."

Like most slogans, this one is fraught with assumptions.  Specifically, it presumes that the only thing separating the owners and players are the amount of zeros they put on their income taxes.  

It's simply not true.  Consider the following:

  1. 70% of the NFL's players are minorities. 0% of NFL owners are minorities.
  2. The average career of an NFL player is 3.5 years. 
  3. Only 46% of NFL players have college degrees.
  4. 78% of NFL players are either bankrupt or under financial stress due to joblessness or divorce within two years of retiring from the league.  
  5. 0% of NFL players are like Jerry Jones, who was hired as executive vice president of his father's insurance agency, upon college graduation.  
  6. NFL athletes are more than twice as likely to die before they are 50 years of age than professional baseball players.  All NFL owners are already over the age of 50.
  7. Despite media reports, not every NFL player is signing a multi-million dollar contract.  In fact, the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys of the world skew average NFL salaries.  Therefore, the average salary is a useless figure from which to judge all players.  The rookie minimum is $310,000; two-year veterans earn $460,000 annually.  The truth is that you and I are likely to significantly outearn most NFL players over our working lifetimes.  
  8. NFL owners are never listed as doubtful for Sunday's games due to a concussion.  NFL players often are.
  9. NFL players are significantly younger and lack financial savvy.  NFL owners simply hire financial savvy.
  10. NFL players are easy targets for scam artists.  Before you start laughing at Mike Vick for his real estate investments, know that even guys like John Elway are scammed in big ways.

These points illustrate what most of us already know--the NFL is generally (with a few exceptions, granted) run by rich, white guys of significant privilege who will always remain rich, white guys of significant privilege.  The NFL players, by contrast, are generally minorities who never came from privilege.  Further, they have shorter life spans on average, short career windows in which to earn money, lower levels of education, and tend to lose all of their money due to bad decisions and poor financial spending.

This isn't a case of billionaires versus millionaires.  Millionaires at least have the decency to stay rich.

This is a case of billionaires versus power ball winners.

Power ball winners, like athletes, are notorious for going broke.  It's been well documented that faced with a sudden deluge of money, they rarely have the capacity or know-how to handle their precipitous wealth.  Often they turn to poor investments, like this one by a group of NFL players in 2009:

Atlanta hedge fund manager Kirk Wright was convicted on 47 counts of fraud and money laundering in a scheme involving more than $150 million. His client list included at least eight NFL players; former safeties Blaine Bishop (who lost $4 million, according to court documents) and Steve Atwater (who lost $2.7 million) had recruited former Broncos stars Terrell Davis and Rod Smith to Wright's firm, unwittingly making them victims too. Soon after his conviction Wright committed suicide in prison.

It's easy to laugh and mock NFL players as arrogant, selfish, and greedy during this recent round of negotiations with the owners.  It's also natural to go all Forrest Gump and say, "Stupid is as stupid does."   After all, none of us have ever had to face a windfall financial boon at the age of 22.  We just don't run the 40 that fast.  But even if we did, I'm sure we'd all go out and invest it all in treasury bonds, right?  We wouldn't go out and buy a big house or a big car.  We wouldn't hit the clubs with our buddies.  We'd simply lock in some risk-free rate of return for a few decades in order to ensure we'd never have to work again.  We're so clever, aren't we?      

Why stop there?  Keep going.  Point out that the owners are not responsible for the health and poor financial decisions of current and former players, who are mere "employees." Further, assume the players know full well the long-term consquences of concussions.  They know what they are getting into.  If they can't walk in ten years, that's their problem.

Yet all of this pales in comparison to the fans and their bread lines.  Forget that this is a process; forget that both sides are simply using the weapons available to them; please forget that each side is positioning their message through each and every interview.  Give us our football now--our attention spans can't abide.  

The NFLPA believes it can best protect the majority of its players--most of whom have no college degree and will play for about three and a half years--through decertification and litigation.  If this pisses you off or makes your draft party a little less guacalicious, blame the players.  Joe Ellis certainly will.  And if you can't side with a guy who is related to not just one, but two US presidents, who can you side with?

Remember, it's your game.  The players just take the concussions.  

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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Second Helpings