I caught just a few minutes of ESPN’s recent 30/30 segment about professional athletes’ financial troubles, but checked out a number of articles commenting on it. Obviously, it’s difficult to sympathize with people who blow through millions of dollars on things like hugh mansions with not one but two bowling alleys; luxury car fleets; well-paid entourages of 40; and just about every other over-the-top “accessory” of the rich and famous you can think of.
But — and this is not so much in defense of these now-broke-and-bankrupt athletes — there is another side to the issue and that’s that of the unscrupulous agent or advisor. They are a big part of the problem as well.
These athletes have so many “hangers-on” — including family members and friends who seem to feel entitled to share in the athlete’s financial sucess. But hangers-on can also include the professionals hired to protect the athlete’s image and marketability — the PR practitioners.
I saw them all the time when I was working in the music industry: Agents who “used” their clients more than represented them and became yes men and women rather than standing up and saying no when it was not what the client wanted to hear, but was in their best interest. Professionally,, we are failing our clients when we choose to become just another member of an entourage looking for self-enrichment. Further, some agents want to become celebrities themselves (“talking heads” and mega-agents) and use their clients to achieve that status.
I remember reading in one of Charles Barkley’s books how he finally had to learn to say no to people always asking for money and “stuff.” In fact, one of my current PR students at Kent has a son in the NFL, and she has told me just how difficult the issue has become in her own family. Because her son finally had to tell some relatives that, while he will continue to help them from time to time he can no longer be their primary income-source, those family members are now calling her to complain. She said it has caused a very deep division in her family. It’s amazing that people would expect him to take care of them, and even more amazing that rather than be thankful for the help he’s already provided, they have turned on him because he has to stop to protect his own financial health and future.
PR agents can’t really do anything about the family issues — other than offer some counsel. But they do owe their athlete/clients ethical representation and professional practice in not adding to the greedy money-grabbing going on out there in the “agents-gone-wild” world.