Pro Athletes Gone Broke: Blame The Athletes, Ex Wives, And Veblen

Why do so many pro athletes go broke? John Salley blames athletes, while Antoine Walker blames his ex-wife for his bankruptcy. Veblen may be the real culprit. 

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

Pro Athletes Gone Broke: Blame The Athletes, Ex Wives, And Veblen

Recently on the BET show “Don’t Sleep,” T.J. Homes tackled the question that is to blame for so many young athletes going broke.

We’ve seen Allen Iverson blow through over $200 million in the blink of an eye and end up with nothing. We’ve seen Antoine Walker blow through over $80 million and end up attempting to play overseas after he had already retired just to pay off some bills.

John Salley puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the athlete and I completely agree to a degree. Although it is understandable that young players with little to no background in finance might be irresponsible with their life savings, it is no excuse.

Salley rightfully points out the obligation both the league and former players have to improving this cycle of boom and bust for pro athletes that come from humble beginnings. He also points out how this cycle has a long history and goes back to athletes, like boxer Joe Lewis, who ended up broke not painfully long after his boing career was over.

This is an epidemic both in the NBA and throughout pro sports. Complex Magazine recently wrote an article on the six reasons NBA players go broke.

They blamed:

6. Hip Hop Culture

5. No Degree / Experience

4. Baby Mama Drama

3. Change in Lifestyle

2. Breadwinner for All

1. Lottery Winner Syndrome

I think a few of these overlap and all can be encompassed in the concept of conspicuous consumption / leisure that sociologist Thorstein Veblen brought into vogue years ago.

Basically, this idea describes individuals consuming products and experiences to both establish and maintain a social standing. This standing is the apex of coming up from the bottom — most of these athletes see it this way after gaining a lot of money in such a short time.

This is clearly lived out in the Lottery Winner Syndrome where an athlete has more money in a single day than their entire neighborhood would ever see in a lifetime. He naturally feels both an obligation and a desire to give back. Plus, it is a tangible example that he has made it. Besides, how could the money ever run out?

The Hip Hop Culture, Baby Mama Drama, No Degree, and Breadwinner For All play into this conspicuous consumption as well, but also speak to a larger cultural milieu at play.

This culture is more than simply the culture of Hip Hop that glamorizes an overly simplified approach to economics, women, and relationships. It is a socioeconomic culture and as John Salley so rightfully stated, the only way to break this pattern of economic tragedy is through the education of young athletes.

This is a community and league obligation. This cycle has been the dirty little secret of athletics for decades. It is about time the NBA addressed this in a more rigorous manner, instead of a few blow-off Power Point presentations.

Photo Credit: Getty

By: Ethan Miller
Collection: Getty Images Sport