For former NFL player Adewale Ogunleye, seeing anyone, let alone athletes, struggle to manage money boils him to his core.
So, he is doing something about it.
Knowing that the average playing career in the NFL is less than four years, Ogunleye’s “light bulb” moment came in his second year in the league. That’s when he said a teammate who was a high selection in that year’s draft asked him for a loan.
“I’m looking at this guy thinking, ‘I’m undrafted.’ I only had a rookie minimum salary and you’re asking me for a loan? And I was actually in a position where I could give them a loan. And so that’s where I realized there’s a problem,” Ogunleye, who played 11 NFL seasons, told USA TODAY Sports.
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Walter Stith, a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Global Sports and Entertainment division, says there is a simple reason to see how wealth grows, and it’s based on the average time an athlete has to produce income in a chosen sport.
The average career length of athletes in each of the four North American major sports is less than four years.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a temptation when it comes to wealth disappearing. I would say it’s more about obligation,” Stith, a former NFL and CFL player said. “Most of these athletes feel that they are obligated to help friends and family and it creates an issue. Financial literacy as a whole needs to be put as a priority in our educational system, especially in dealing with Black wealth and Black entrepreneurship.”
That’s one of the reasons why Ogunleye teamed with UBS and its athletes and entertainers segment, which helps their peers and underserved communities become financially literate.
Its partnerships, for instance with the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, can help educate enrolled students at the 14 league schools.
UBS and SIAC have announced a virtual series, “ELEVATE! Creating and Preserving Black Wealth,” designed to introduce Black people to job opportunities in the financial industry while providing tools to become more proficient in managing money.
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In those sessions, which will be led by Ogunleye, students who are enrolled at SIAC institutions can discuss with leading experts and ex-athletes ways of building wealth and passing it on to future generations.
Former NBA player Allan Houston and SIAC Commissioner Greg Moore are part of the discussions, which have three more sessions set for the spring semester.
Among the skills that will be taught include creating a strong financial base by developing smart habits, learning to build, maintain, and protect your credit score and preparing for life after college with courses on taxes, homeownership and investing in 401(k) plans.
Managing NFL wealth to a new career
Ogunleye, the son of Nigerians, grew up in the projects on Staten Island, New York, which he said provided the fuel for his NFL career.
In 2004, after totaling a career-high 15 sacks, he was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the Chicago Bears. Ogunleye signed a six-deal deal worth $34 million, and he pocketed $15 million in signing bonuses.
Taking lessons he learned from managing his NFL millions propelled him to a second career in the financial world, and now he is the head of sports and entertainment at UBS.
One of his first orders of business was to reach out to SIAC Commissioner Moore.
The SIAC, headquartered in Atlanta, is made up primarily of historically Black colleges and universities that compete in NCAA Division II, with campuses stretching from Ohio to Georgia.
“I personally believe that income inequality is an existential threat,” Moore said. “Some of our HBCUs are located in some of the most economically underserved, disconnected communities in the country.”
Some communities where those schools are based have poverty rates well above the national average, which is 11.4%. Tuskegee, Alabama (Tuskegee University) has a poverty rate of 28%; Albany, Georgia (Albany State University) is at 31%, while Fort Valley, Georgia (Fort Valley State University) is among the worst, where 42% of the population lives in poverty.
One way SIAC is moving forward in financial literacy is through a program called Tomorrow’s Talent, aimed at helping students eventually gain summer internship opportunities and careers with UBS.
Moore also reached out to Houston, who retired in 2005 after playing 12 seasons, to gauge his interest in “ELEVATE,” which is the virtual event series aimed at delivering financial wellness literacy.
Moore thought it would be crucial to have Houston, now in a leadership role as the special assistant to the general manager of the New York Knicks, share his story and perspective on his career. He also wanted Houston to discuss his mindset as an entrepreneur and as someone making a social impact with his organization FISLL. (Faith, Integrity, Sacrifice, Leadership, & Legacy).
Houston said the idea of preparing for the next step financially was important to him as he learned about managing money from his father, who was an assistant coach at Louisville (and later the first Black head basketball coach at Tennessee), and his mother, a financial aid director at Louisville while simultaneously running a logistics and transportation company.
“When you can share these stories and let the students know, and can give them the right information, access and opportunity, they can really create a lot more than we can imagine,” said Houston, who signed nearly $120 million in NBA contracts. “It’s just they have to have the tools and the vision and the execution strategy.”
Ogunleye, Moore and Houston agree that there is a misconception around the term “financial literacy,” as they say having a lot of money is not a prerequisite of managing money.
Changing the face of the financial services industry, not only by greater diversity of those working in the field but creating and maintaining a talent pipeline, is one of the main goals of the partnership.
“You don’t just budget your money, you budget your lifestyle,” Houston said. “Fundamental financial literacy is just understanding and watching what you have versus what you actually need, in which you can save and start building a lifestyle habit.”