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    Learning Lessons From "Broke"

    By: Eric SanInocencio
    Twitter: @EricSan
    SEC Digital Network

    Birmingham, Ala. – “7.6 million (his contract), 2.5 million a year,” said former Alabama star Keith McCants. “It was the biggest contract in NFL history for a defensive player.”

    ESPN’s acclaimed “30 for 30” series, a collection of sports documentaries spanning events from the past three decades, premiered the film “Broke” last night on the Worldwide Leader.

    30 for 30, not to be confused with the SEC’s “Storied” franchise, has examined all sides of the sports world during their now two-year run, telling well known features along with previously unheard tales from pivotal moments and people in sports history. Everything from international crisis (The “Two Escobars”) to local legends (“Jordan Rides The Bus”) have appeared in the series, a group of the world’s top film and movie directors exploring the depths of athletic lore.

    “30 for 30” has been Emmy nominated, and widely regarded as the top body of work in the sports documentary genre. After releasing the first “30” films, the huge popularity of the series has prompted ESPN to undertake more productions, including digital “shorts” to be premiered online.

    The latest film in the series, the aforementioned “Broke”, tackles a singular theme not often reported in the mainstream media. The documentary, directed by Billy Corben (“Cocaine Cowboys”, “The U”) examines the role of money in professional sports, and more importantly, what happens when it is all gone. Corben’s saga is told by some of yesteryear’s most famous athletes, a cautionary tale of fortunes lost and lives ruined, the underbelly of sports dreams gone awry.

    The numbers are staggering. As first reported in the Sports Illustrated article “How (and why) Athletes Go Broke”, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress just two years after their retirement from the game.  In the NBA, within five years of retirement an estimated 60 percent of all former players are broke.

    Former Ole Miss offensive lineman Tre Stallings, who is now an Assistant Director of Championships at the Southeastern Conference, played four seasons in the National Football League. Upon being drafted, Stallings took part in the NFL’s Rookie Symposium, a three-day event hosted by the league that prepares new players for getting adjusted to life as a professional athlete.

    “I’d say the biggest points of emphasis the NFL tried to stress was knowing your role as a professional athlete, learning how to budget your money and saying no, and other life lessons,” Stallings explained.

    “That was the first time I thought about my future and how short life in the NFL can be. (During the symposium) Charlie Casserly (a former NFL GM and current analyst) told everyone to stand up. Then he told 70 percent of us to sit down. The remaining 30 percent standing were the people that would still likely be in the league after three years. That was the realization that it didn’t last a long time and I had to make the most of the opportunity,” Stallings shared.

    The film’s subjects, ranging from former Atlanta Falcons Star Andre Rison to current NFL player Bart Scott, chronicle the many pitfalls that athletes face upon reaching the highest levels of sport. Reckless spending, bad investments and unsavory characters all play a role in telling the story, as each player shares anecdotes from their financial mistakes.    

    Two of the most prominently featured athletes in the documentary, McCants (Alabama) and Jamal Mashburn (Kentucky), share their rise from the SEC playing fields to the pinnacle of professional sports.

    They embody the good (Mashburn) and the bad (McCants) of life in the “fast lane”, and form the core of the film’s premise of how being “Broke” comes from choices. The right decisions can turn the immediate wealth of superstardom to a long term plan of stability. The wrong choices, and well, McCants explains it best. “It destroyed my family, it destroyed my friends and it will destroy you if you let it.”

    Alvin Keith McCants was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1968. A heralded prep phenom at Murphy High School, the 6-foot-6 star enrolled at the University of Alabama. What followed was a decorated collegiate career, as McCants dominated as a defensive player, winning countless awards including Sports Illustrated’s “Defensive Player of the Year” in 1989. In his junior season (1990), McCants accumulated 119 tackles, a mark that still stands in Alabama’s record books today.

    After being mentioned as a potential top overall selection in the 1990 NFL Draft, McCants was selected fourth overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He would go on to spend six years in the NFL, playing for three different teams (Tampa Bay, Houston, Arizona) and totaling 13.5 sacks in his career.
    However, any headlines he made on the field have been replaced by the headlines he’s made off it, as the former star has been arrested 11 times since his NFL days came to end.  Among the charges have come three convictions, and the athlete formerly revered for his talent is now a warning for those that follow in his footsteps.
    In the documentary, McCants details the pressures he faced from family, friends and acquaintances, and how he was unprepared for the financial windfall he received upon being drafted into the NFL.

    McCants appears somber  and despondent during the film, a reflection of where his talent took him to the realization of what he is today. The former Alabama alum has had 29 surgeries, and has been diagnosed with depression. The player who once terrorized SEC quarterbacks now struggles to find work; the vast millions he accumulated having disappeared much like the ability that made him a consensus All-American.

    For Jamal Mashburn, the story he tells is different, one of hope and a future built on the back of his sports achievements. Mashburn’s SEC career path mirrors McCants’ in many ways, even though the “Monster Mash” spent his days on the Kentucky hardwood.

    A 6-foot-8 forward from the Bronx, NY, Mashburn is now a Kentucky legend, his #24 jersey hanging from the rafters at Rupp Arena. He was an All-American two straight seasons at UK (1992-93) and was named the SEC Player of the Year. He scored 1843 points in his Wildcat career, and was drafted fourth overall, the same as McCants, in the 1993 NBA Draft.

    Mashburn played 13 years in the NBA, suiting up for five different franchises during that time. His first professional contract, as he stated in the film, was for 33 million dollars over seven years. That amount would total just a third of Mashburn’s career earnings in the NBA, as the former Kentucky star banked just over 75 million in total.

    He also shared a personal story of endorsement gifts, as the shoe manufacturer FILA showered the then 20-year old with a Ferrari automobile as a bonus for signing with their company. The sportscar stayed untouched in Mashburn’s garage, because as he told Corben “I can’t drive a stick”. Such is the life of a professional athlete.

    Among all the players featured in “Broke”, Mashburn’s comments serve as the most grounded, as over and again he explains what can go wrong without a financial plan. He sheds light on those unprepared for superstardom, players “who don’t even know how to write a check”. “People overextended themselves,” he said in the film, as stories of lavish spending and risky investments derailed a who’s who list of former sports greats.

    But for him, it was different. “I was an active participant in my transition,” he said.

    Mashburn does not find himself in that company, as he’s grown into a successful businessman in his post-NBA career. He has ownership stakes in several car dealerships and restaurants, and also works as an NBA analyst for ESPN. As explained in the documentary, while his life now is shaped by his time as an athlete, he’s found a new sense of worth without basketball.

    “For me, the briefcase came along with the high top sneakers,” Mashburn said. “I’m actually living my dream now, and I’m much happier as a person, as a husband, and I’m more mentally stimulated right now than I was ever as a professional athlete.”

    If you don’t think this is an SEC story, don’t be fooled. With the high totals of SEC athletes drafted in all the major sports, conference athletes are entering the professional ranks in record numbers. In the past seven years, an SEC player has been chosen first in the NFL (Cam Newton), NBA (Anthony Davis) and MLB (David Price) drafts. In the 2012 NBA Draft, SEC players occupied the top three slots (Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal), while nine SEC players were taken in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

    As “Broke” beautifully explored, for every one Jamal Mashburn there are four Keith McCants. When the film came to its close, McCants’ words heeded a final warning, a chilling reminder of what being “Broke” truly is.

    “Once you lost it, it is going to be hard to find your way back…some of us don’t.”