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UNC symposium informs athletes on how to build wealth and share it

‘The Complexity and Comfort of Black Athlete Philanthropy’ gave insight and a chance for student-athletes to network with pros

For athletes, building wealth, securing a future after a playing career, and developing the ability to give back start with early and strategic planning. Those were just three of the big takeaways from a panel of authors, academics, former athletes and financial professionals at the Center for Sport Business at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

University of Houston professor Billy Hawkins kicked off the conference on April 21 by sharing a slide noting the popular NCAA slogan that:

  • Of 480,000 student-athletes, “most of them go pro in something other than sports.”
  • Fewer “than 1 percent of the athletes generate more than 90 percent of NCAA revenues,” and “on average, 60 percent of the athletes are black males.”

“It’s a poor business model when so much of the revenue is generated by such a small percentage of workers,” said Hawkins, who is the author of The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominantly White NCAA Institutions.

“The black body is used for institutional development and capital expansion,” Hawkins said. But too often, the athlete is not getting the same wealth-building advantages out of the multibillion-dollar industries of college and professional sports.

That is the complex problem that discussions such as the one on April 21 are seeking to solve.

The discussion, titled “Investing in Futures: The Complexity and Comfort of Black Athlete Philanthropy,” often delved into strategies to drive former student-athletes to a position where they would able to give back.

The event was titled Investing In Futures: The Complexity and Comfort of Black Athlete Philanthropy.

Courtesy of Kevin Seifert

And much advice centered on solutions to prevent former athletes from becoming broke or “in financial stress” just a few years after their playing days are done.

Charles Way, who earned a civil engineering degree while playing football at the University of Virginia and who spent 14 years with the New York Giants, said that “understanding real estate and understanding the real estate development world” is one potential lucrative path after a playing career.

Way, a former vice president of NFL player engagement, has also served as the Giants’ director of player development. In those roles, he is credited with implementing an array of programs in financial literacy, leadership and career development focused on empowering athletes and their families both on and off the field.

Way and others also pointed out the “deficit” position from which many African-American athletes begin, compared with white athletes.

“Most of the time the black athlete is using his money to have fun, when white athletes are using daddy’s money to have fun,” Way said.

Panelists also agreed that too many black athletes suffer from “the lottery syndrome,” where they blow through wealth that was earned quickly and then resign themselves to going back to their regular means of living.

James Mitchell, director of football development for Duke University, said his student-athletes are introduced to financial planning shortly after they arrive on campus.

“We teach them how to spend whatever they have now,” Mitchell said. “For freshmen, we teach them how to spend food [meal plan] points.”

Attendees were urged to network with business leaders and business owners early on, create long-lasting relationships and seek out professional internships.

William Rhoden, a columnist for The Undefeated and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, addressed the conference via Skype.

“I wrote Forty Million Dollar Slaves to give a history lesson, but also to call timeout,” he said.

Rhoden said the current question is: “Who are we now as black people in the 21st century?”

Rhoden also had a pointed answer for a question from the audience: What does he think about athletes who hold camps and other activities that are out of the financial range for lower- and moderate-income families?

The Impact Symposium was hosted by the UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Center for Sport Business at the Kenan Center on April 21 with Deborah Stroman, director of the center. The event was titled “Investing In Futures: The Complexity and Comfort of Black Athlete Philanthropy.”

Courtesy of Kevin Seifert

“You are either a person who will make sure these things are accessible … or you are part of the problem,” Rhoden said.

Tre Boston, a Tar Heel alum and current defensive back for the Carolina Panthers, also addressed the conference via Skype, advising the conference that “you don’t have to be a millionaire to be a millionaire. You can save like $5,000 a year, and that will add up over the years,” he said.

Unfortunately, Boston said, you don’t often see young athletes discussing wealth-building.

“Guys you see talk about financial planning for the future are seven- to eight-plus-year veterans,” he said.

Phil Ford, a consensus All-American during his playing days at UNC and one of several alums who returned to take part in the symposium, helped shed light on why some African-Americans might not give back to their universities.

“When I left North Carolina, I thought everybody loved their school the way I loved North Carolina,” he said. “But I found out that often was not the case. It comes back to how much you enjoyed yourself when you were there.”

The audience included some Tar Heel athletes, including Jake Lawler, a spring early enrollee who will be a freshman defensive end on the football team in the fall.

“It was awesome,” said Lawler, who cited learning about “the scope of resources that are available.” He and his teammates began networking with panelists during breaks and after the discussions.

“It’s good to see there are people who care about you during your career and afterwards,” Lawler added.

The Center for Sport Business, part of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, drives discussion about economics, education and wealth management for athletics and former athletes.

Professor Deborah Stroman, director of the center and organizer of the event, said, “The purpose of the conference was to hear from academics and business leaders about a very important topic in America: black athletes and financial matters.”

For Stroman, the conference could not have gone much better.

“Today’s conference was a small but a most powerful attempt to touch lives and foster dreams,” she said. “We succeeded in connecting sport leaders — players, academics and businessmen — with an audience ready to hear the truth about the blessing and burden of money and athletic participation.

“Their insights were powerful and so inspirational,” she added. “The students left feeling connected, motivated and ready to take action on their plans for life after sport.”

David R. Squires is a writer, editor and digital journalist who has worked for the New York Times, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer and St. Petersburg Times. He's also a former editor-in-chief of BlackVoices.com and BVQ magazine, a former Black Enterprise writer and editor and NUTribemagazine.com managing editor.