SALT LAKE CITY —
Money and Rulon Gardner never seemed to mesh. The green stuff slipped away from him like an escaping foe. Now he's bankrupt, $3 million in debt on a $37,000 income. His motorcycle, watches, knives, guns, jewelry and SUV are scheduled to be auctioned later this month. His Olympic wrestling medals would be, too, except he says someone stole them.
He survived a plane crash, a motorcycle accident and a winter wilderness scare, not to mention a certain massive Russian Greco-Roman wrestler. But financial woes?
He's been pinned.
Gardner, who now lives in Logan, isn't the only sports figure to experience financial woes. John L. Smith, coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, has filed for bankruptcy, $40 million in debt. Last spring, he skipped out on a commitment with Weber State to take the head coaching post at Arkansas. Small wonder. He was in the process of bankruptcy — the product of bad real estate investments — and the Arkansas job was a $700,000 pay raise.
Last month, former Heisman winner Vince Young declared publicly that he was out of money, having gone through at least $26 million. Young claimed a financial advisor misappropriated millions. At the same time, USA Today said he spent $5,000 per week at Cheesecake Factory and one night blew $6,000 at T.G.I. Friday's. He also tipped a kid $200 to carry his bags.
I get notes from readers who say if you gave them even a couple million dollars, they would never squander it.
Don't be too sure.
"People will never have enough money to buy all they want," said former NFL tight end Chad Lewis, an author and current BYU associate athletics director. "It's insatiable."
Former Ute Luther Elliss made and spent over $11 million he earned with the Detroit Lions. He told me last spring he had wasted some on possessions, but spent much on things such as medical care and educational expenses for relatives and friends. Also, investments went sour. He said he kept hearing from advisors that if he just put a few thousand more into the projects, they would pay off.
He and his family ended up being supported by friends and church associates.
"If you're investing, study it out, do your homework. It's inadequate to allow someone else free reign with your money," Lewis said.
The rules to avoid bankruptcy aren't revolutionary: live on a budget and within your means, pay bills on time and avoid large credit debt and impulse buying. Steer clear of risky business ventures.
That applies to large salaries as well as small.
Lewis said if he were addressing NFL rookies, "I would tell them that starting with the first paycheck, they should have a plan in place for their post-career lives."
That includes saving money and avoiding extravagance.
"They need to know life is expensive; lifestyle is even more expensive," Lewis said.
Sports Illustrated reported that 79 percent of NFL players run out of funds within five years of retirement.
"That's worse than Russian roulette," Lewis said.
I figure that beyond the responsibility to themselves and their families, pro athletes owe it to their fans to be fiscally responsible. Collecting excessive jewelry, driving numerous expensive vehicles, investing haphazardly and spending lavishly on entertainment is often disastrous. The average career of an NFL player lasts 3.3 years, the average salary $1.9 million.
"If life has lessons that are applicable, it's that you can't spend more than you bring in, "Lewis said, "or the end result is only pain, sadness and frustration."
Some pro athletes are conscientious enough to do anti-drug commercials, but I haven't seen any urging kids to save their money.
Along with "Don't drink and drive" and "Stay in school" there should also be ads that tell viewers, "Don't splurge and spend."
"If your life is built around cars and houses and parties making you happy, well, not really," Lewis said. "What's so happy about it? Maybe they will be for a minute. But when the bills come, they're not."
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