Sports Ethics: Phillip Buchanon and his Financial Journey

Phillip BuchanonNormally, I don’t get involved with book reviews, but I would like to read Phillip Buchanon’s book because the subject addresses an area on Sports Ethics that is vitally important to every athlete and coach: money.

The title of the book is: New Money: Staying Rich, and he addresses the pressures, the challenges and the pitfalls of suddenly coming into a lot of money – then trying to keep it.

He was drafted in 2002, and when signing with the Oakland Raiders, received $12 million. While 2002 isn’t exactly ancient times, to put things into perspective, in 2015 that would be worth more than $16 million.

It’s a lot of money.

Now I don’t know about you, but if someone gave me $16 million I would be overjoyed to say the least, and I would have a fairly good idea of what to do with it. However, my background was originally in finance and accounting, and as an older man, I know how to avoid certain temptations. In fact, when I counsel athletes about finances, I help them get through the overwhelming pressure of all that money – and advising them on how they can avoid unethical temptations.

Suppose that I didn’t come into any money at all, but that you and I were good friends? What would I ethically expect from you? Nothing.

What you should expect from me (and I am absolutely serious) is congratulations and possibly a wish that you use the money to do good and not harm; that you are always ethical in how you use those funds and that you promise to seek professional advice in investing so that years from now you will live in comfort.

That is not quite what happened to Phillip Buchanon.

Mom’s “Demand”

In his interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Buchanon explained that his mother had her own ideas:

“Soon after the draft, she told me that I owed her a million dollars for raising me for the past 18 years. Well, that was news to me. When I got to the NFL, I was all dollars and no sense. I want to make sure the next generation of athletes doesn’t make the same mistakes.”

He was a good son, and he tried to do the right thing. He bought his mom a big, beautiful new house, and then she complained it was too big. According to the article:

“When Buchanon tried to get his mother to downsize to a smaller house, he had to negotiate further.

‘I offered to buy her a comfortable house in my name for her to live in. This way she wouldn’t have to take out any loans or put my little sister and brothers in a situation where the roof over their heads could be taken away…Instead, she opted for $15,000 cash. She told me that if the new house didn’t have space for two living room sets, she didn’t want it.”

Buchanon is the first to admit he was making uneducated financial decisions.

He is hardly alone.

I have written blogs about many athletes in many different sports who have been torn between the love they had for their parents (or their sense of duty and obligation) and the need to figure out what to do with the money. The history of professional sports is filled with stories about the not-so-ethical parents of those professionals.

As I mentioned, it is enough for a 55 year-old man to decide what to do with the money, but quite another for a 21 year old less than a year removed from college. The problem is, that those surrounding the athlete don’t often care about the athlete’s future, so much as their self-interest.

Start with Good Ethics

I want to make it clear that I am not a financial advisor. I lecture and consult on Sports Ethics. I firmly believe that an athlete with a good ethical grounding, surrounded by those who are themselves ethical, will immensely help an athlete more at the very beginning of the financial aspect of the sports journey.

No matter how well intentioned the parent, unless the parent is a certified financial planner, they should never touch their athlete’s money (even then I have huge reservations). It is much better left in the hands of a professional planner, a professional agent and a legal team firmly in place to protect the athlete’s assets.

My goal would be to help the athlete or coach with an awareness of the ethical pressures, to teach them who is out to get him or her, and how to avoid unethical temptations. What I teach is that good ethics block bad intentions. Who wouldn’t want someone to live a beautiful life? Only the unethical.




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