Helicopter Parents, Quacks and Jack Johnson’s Bankruptcy

There is an ancient piece of rabbinic wisdom that comes to mind with this blog: “A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” I could not agree more. The advice applies as much today as it did a thousand years or more ago. To treat yourself, is egotistical and just a bit unethical.

Jack JohnsonThe same might apply to giving ourselves financial advice when we’re not financial people, or much worse, letting people who have no godly idea about finances handle our money for us. What about people who tell us they are financial experts or who trick us into believing they are experts? What about them? I would call them quacks or crooks.

Jack Johnson is a hockey superstar. The Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman has gone from signing a six-year $30 million deal to being bankrupt. He has virtually no assets left and if what he alleges in true, his parents are to blame.

In an article for ESPN by Katie Strang and an earlier ESPN piece by Scott Burnside, we learn the sad case of an athlete who once again chose the wrong advisors. This time the advisors were his parents.

Parental love isn’t a substitute for good medicine

I am going to keep the family dynamic out of this. It is none of my business, but it sounds as though there will be a sharp divide in the family that will never be completely healed.

Johnson has filed for bankruptcy and he blames his parents for losing his money. He gave them full control of his money.

The article states:

“Jack Johnson claims that Tina Johnson and his father Jack Sr. bought a house in Manhattan Beach, California, with his money but without the player’s knowledge, according to the report. In addition, Johnson’s parents borrowed $15 million against their son’s future earnings. Many of the loans carried high interest rates… The mortgage on the house carried a 12 percent rate, while a loan for $3 million was at 24 percent, leading to huge fees and, ultimately, default.”

His parents managed to waste away $18 million of their son’s lifetime earnings and as for his future earnings, they: “also appear compromised because of a tremendous amount of debt incurred, with court documents showing a list of creditors with unsecured claims totaling more than $1.68 million. In the filing, Johnson claims assets of less than $50,000 and total debts of more than $10 million.”

He has virtually no money left. If there is any silver lining to this scenario, it is that he took back his own financial future and has placed it in the hands of solid, licensed, certified financial planners.

Judging by the investments above, and the insane interest rates, his parents – lovely as they may be – had no earthly idea of what they were doing. They confused all of the years they spent driving their son to hockey camps and clinics, with financial responsibility. In knowing they were in over their heads – and again, it appears they were – they were completely unethical. In their minds, they knew best. To my mind, they were clueless.

What was Jack Johnson’s role?

The choices that Jack Johnson came to make may have been due to the mistakes of youth early in the game, but as the years went by, he should have noticed that something was just not right. He chose to look away.

Frankly, I wonder where his “advisors” were when his parents glommed onto his money. Maybe the advisors tried to talk him out of giving them all that power; maybe a few rational people tried to tell him to use respected financial experts.

We are told this hockey parent phenomenon is not unusual. It is the ultimate helicopter parent story; parents getting involved in matters where they lack any kind of knowledge. As someone who works with athletes on an ethical basis, were I to have advised Jack Johnson, I would have steered him toward people who cared about his future, and not people making him feel guilty about his past.

It is his life, not his parents’ life. Parents sacrifice for their kids – I get that. We want what’s best – or we should want what’s best. But parents and all friends and relatives for that matter, should do all that is possible to help their children, nieces and nephews, not to suck the life out of them and their futures.

To be self-centered and arrogant as were his parents, is nothing but lousy ethics. However somewhere along the way Jack Johnson had an ethical responsibility to himself. I truly hope his new advisors can give him the help he sorely deserves.

 

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