Ballers: Episode 4 Recap

Tyler Horn, Contributor - The Players' Tribune

I’ll admit this: Spencer Strasmore handles a hangover much better than I can.

After last week’s outlandish yacht party, Episode 4 of Ballers picks up right where it left off. We’re back on the yacht the next morning, surveying the aftermath of the corporate event. After every big party comes the next morning. The two major emphases for this week’s episode were Spencer and Vernon’s struggling relationship and Spencer’s denial about the concussion issue.

Spencer continues to mishandle the relationship with Vernon because he is mishandling the relationship with Vernon’s childhood friend, Reggie. Reggie continues to believe he knows what is best for Vernon. And actually, as much as Reggie is easy to dislike, his stubbornness regarding Vernon’s pending contract is in good faith. But that doesn’t mean he’s right. Reggie and Vernon are facing a serious roadblock because they are overvaluing Vernon’s worth.

It happens all the time in the NFL, too. The player is having a good career and decides he deserves more money. The player may hold out, not report to training camp or offseason activities and play the negotiating game. But it the end, more often than not, the player was asking for too much and doesn’t get the contract he wanted. In the NFL, it is very rare that holding out ever leads to the bigger contract the athlete wanted. In a league where guys are constantly getting replaced and where injuries are common, you’d better be a bona fide stud if you’re going to try to hold out for more money. Otherwise, an Alfred Morris (sixth-round pick), an Arian Foster (undrafted) or, as we saw in this week’s episode, a Victor Cruz (undrafted) will take your spot and perform for much less money. There’s a fine line between valuing yourself and being greedy.

Yet, Vernon is not wrong in wanting a contract. Ballers is up to speed on this issue. A flaw in the new NFL collective bargaining agreement left rookies with zero negotiating room. Thus, guys like Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck are paid pennies for the first few years compared to their veteran peers. Players in their rookie deals cannot renegotiate their rookie contracts, despite their on-field performance. Russell Wilson went to two Super Bowls in his first three years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his backup earned more than he did. That’s why you run into some crazy negotiating when players come to the end of their first deal. It’s not surprising or objectively wrong that they want a juicy long-term deal to reward them for their service (See: Dez Bryant).

The problem Vernon is creating lies in how much he wants. (Take the $40 million guaranteed!) Obviously, it is hard to draws comparisons because this is a fictional television show, but the show represents Vernon as a poor man’s Gerald McCoy with the potential to be the best DT in the league within a couple years. Regardless, the figures in his contract are near the ceiling of the league. DTs just don’t make that much money a year unless their name is Suh or McCoy. Ever since Albert Haynesworth’s bank-busting deal, it is simply a rarity.

This is where Vernon/Reggie do not see eye-to-eye with Spencer/Jason, and where Spencer finally begins to see that Vernon may not be the best client to have, even despite the huge potential upside. If Vernon were to accept that deal and Spencer could add that money to his assets under management, then both their worlds would be much better places. But Vernon has already proven himself to be an excessive spender, and Reggie has proven himself to be ignorant to the realities of financial management even as he throws around big words and talks a big negotiating game.

There is a lot of debate over the validity of the connection between football and CTE, but in my house, it is a very real thing.

Such a volatile relationship could really end in a lawsuit. Spencer tries to protect Vernon from his money. Vernon spends it all. Vernon sues Spencer for losing all his money. It’s practically a Broadway show at this point. The story has become such a trope. As such, the partnership between Spencer and Vernon seems to be coming to an end.

The second major focus of this week’s episode is Spencer’s battle with the ongoing effects of CTE. There is a lot of debate over the validity of the connection between football and CTE, but in my house, it is a very real thing. Having played football for a long time, I have had my fair share of hits to the head. I have experienced many of the symptoms of CTE. It is scary at times, but it’s easier when you have someone to help walk you through it — for me, it’s my wife and family. On top of that, I’ve been lucky to have people who are incredibly knowledgeable in the neurology field surrounding and supporting me. Concussions are a widespread problem. My wife had to retire from collegiate soccer due to concussions. That, coincidentally, led me to Dr. Gillian Hotz, the director of the University of Miami Concussion Program and one of the leading consultants for HBO’s Ballers. She helped the writers give an accurate depiction of an athlete suffering from CTE.

Denial is a big issue with football and CTE. Most successful athletes have this vision of themselves as indestructible. I know I did. Despite the broken arms and legs, many players believe the psyche can never be touched. That is where the danger lies. People can see broken arms and broken legs, and thus can feel sympathy for the injury. But concussions are an invisible affliction. The denial is helped by the fact that concussions vary in their severity and the symptoms take time — sometimes years — to appear. While you’re playing, denial is a survival mechanism. It keeps you on the field, making money. However, denial only leads to further injury. There have been many advances in concussion research, and thanks to people like Dr. Hotz and my wife, who worked with her, awareness is beginning to spread at a much faster rate than ever before. You have to give credit to Ballers for taking on the issue, and I hope we see more in coming episodes. The way to defeat denial is to address the issue straight on.

Lastly, I want to comment on Joe’s pitch to Victor Cruz. It was the first time that he had talked to one of these athlete prospects in a professional setting. It was good to see the contrast from the yacht party, where he tried to be the athletes’ friend. Despite how we’re often perceived, athletes are not dumb. Yes, yacht parties are fun, but when talking finances, it is better to be honest and forthcoming than to try and win over a client through an alcohol-fueled rager. Joe’s pitch the next morning to Victor Cruz was authentic and honest. Athletes can tell when you’re BS-ing. There’s a time for business and a time for partying.

Check back each week as I dissect each episode as it pertains to football and the financial advisory world. It will be interesting to see how Spencer’s relationship with Vernon/Reggie continues to develop, and I would also love to see Ballers continue to explore this concussion storyline more and more.

Tyler Horn is a former NFL player turned financial advisor. Click here for the Episode 1 and Episode 2 and Episode 3 recaps.

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