Preparing For Life After Sports

Download Audio
Professional athletes may make lots of money when they're playing, but what happens when they can no longer play the game that brought them their success? (Bill Wippert/AP)
Professional athletes may make lots of money when they're playing, but what happens when they can no longer play the game that brought them their success? (Bill Wippert/AP)

This story is part of Only A Game’sTime Show” which examines how the passage of time influences sports.

In this week’s show, we’re exploring the impact of the passage of time on our games, and on the people who play them, and on the people who watch them.

Lots of the most accomplished athletes begin understanding themselves as dedicated athletes when they’re still children. So it was fun to speak this week with Amy Chow, who was a member of the so-called “Magnificent Seven” team of gymnasts who won gold at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. She knew from the time she was a small child that she wanted to be a doctor.

Ain’t nothing wrong with getting an education.

Maurice Clarett, former Ohio State football star

"Apparently," Chow recalled, "my mom told me when I was — I don’t know — 8 or something, I had finished going to the doctor, and I told her that I wanted to be a pediatrician when I grew up. So it always had been in the back of my mind, even when I was training."

Dr. Chow, now a pediatrician in California, was referring to her training as a gymnast. She also trained as a pianist, and as a diver, and somewhere along the line she became a pretty good pole-vaulter, all the while excelling in school, which her parents made a priority even over gymnastics.

That’s a strategy with which former Ohio State football star Maurice Clarett has come to agree belatedly.

"Ain’t nothing wrong with getting an education," Clarett said. "If you made it from your neighborhood, and you made it on campus, and all you did was basically play to the end of Florida State and you got a real education —  not no [expletive] classes — that’s cool."

That was part of the message — recorded by ESPN — that Clarett delivered recently to the members of the football team at Florida State.

It was a lesson he’d learned after failing to take advantage of the educational opportunities he might have had and sabotaging his football career by fighting with his coaches, among other missteps. Eventually he went to prison for armed robbery. Now he’s advising young male athletes to do as he says, rather than as he did.

Tim McCormick, who played in the NBA for 10 years, now runs the Rookie Transition Program sponsored by the NBA Players Association. The idea of the rookie program and programs for players leaving the NBA is to help them explore careers within and beyond the game. They have the opportunity to learn about not only coaching, but real estate investment and franchising. The programs are designed to help players understand that time will pass, probably more quickly than they anticipate, and that they will have lots of time when their careers in the NBA end to do something else.

"That’s the reality. Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell — everybody gets another job, because people are so competitive," McCormick said. "And you don’t want to live a life playing golf and laying by the pool for the next 40 or 50 years, I think. You know, it sounds good for an offseason, but it’s not real good reality for our players to think that’s the way the future is going to be."

Antoine Walker lost $110 million he had earned in the NBA. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Antoine Walker lost the $110 million he earned in the NBA. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Most ex-NBA players don’t have the specific talents evident in the post-basketball work of those three gentlemen. Jordan is a marketing giant, while Russell and Abdul-Jabbar have risen above their basketball achievements as spokespeople for causes much larger than the game. But lots of ex-NBA players are lifetime athletes trying to figure out what comes next. A few years ago, Antoine Walker was among them. A three-time All-Star, Walker played for 12 seasons. During that time and shortly thereafter, he took on the responsibility of supporting about 70 family members and friends, made bad investments, began gambling in a big way, and lost $110 million. Eventually he pleaded guilty to charges that he’d written bad checks. Walker went through the NBA’s rookie program, and he doesn’t feel it covers the necessary ground as far as handling money is concerned.

"I think you have to bring Antoine Walker and other guys of my type out and let these guys hear real stories," Walker said. "I think you can put a financial firm in front of them, and it’s great, but you need to let these guys hear real stories, real life situations. Then it hits home. If they aren’t able to do that, and they shy away from that, then they’ll never make a difference."

We don’t think for being 35, 40 years old, because we’re 18, 19, 20 years old, and we think we’re going to make money forever.

Antoine Walker, former NBA All-Star

These days Antoine Walker speaks to athletes and entertainers on behalf of the Global Sports and Entertainment Financial Education Program established by Morgan Stanley. His message isn’t complicated:

"You get a lot of money at an early age and you don’t understand or know what to do with it, and we don’t think for the future," he said. "I think that’s the biggest thing. We don’t think for being 35, 40 years old, because we’re 18, 19, 20 years old, and we think we’re going to make money forever."

Walker found the league wasn’t interested in counselling him on the way out.

"You’re kind of just thrown to the wolves," Walker said. "And I understand that. I get that wholeheartedly. You know, we all make mistakes. But they pretty much — you know, you’re on your own after that."

McCormick feels the only players who have to feel they’re entirely on their own when their careers end — and most of them end after only a few seasons — are the players who chose not to take advantage of the programs McCormick is offering. He suggests that time has increased the options open to players leaving the NBA. That makes sense. It seems to have changed everything else about our games.

This segment aired on August 22, 2015.


Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



More from Only A Game

Listen Live