“He doesn’t know what he thinks, he’s a football player.”
This is a quote by a sports agent in this week’s episode of Ballers. Surprised? As a former NFL player and current financial manager, I’m not.
The theme of the second episode of season 2 of the HBO series Ballers was the dumb jock stereotype — and it hit us like a cornerback blitz.
Ask any football player. They’ll tell you. There’s a perception of football players as stupid. There’s this idea that we are all just big, dumb athletes who probably can’t even read. We skate by in school, we have people do our homework for us and we get teachers to change our grades. The dumb jock stereotype is one of the most popular tropes in modern day storytelling. It is absurd to pigeonhole us into an archetype.
Just like in society at large, some athlete are dumb and some are supersmart. The dumb jock stereotype is not only a small-minded way to categorize a large and diverse group of people, but it’s also toxic because, in my opinion, it can lead to the exploitation of athletes.
I’m talking specifically about money.
In last night’s episode, Terrell Suggs shouts, “Where the f*** is my money at?” Suggs is an actual NFL star playing an athlete in Ballers. In the show, Suggs’s agent has invested his money in shady places and Suggs has no idea where it is. His reaction highlights a deep problem in sports: transparency when it comes to who is handling an athlete’s finances. This lack of transparency — and possible exploitation — is a major issue for a large number of professional athletes. Their money is being invested in casinos, nightclubs, online-trading platforms, tech start-ups and all sorts of other bullshit. People are taking advantage of them in broad daylight.
Professional athletes make an incredible amount of money. The more they make, the harder it becomes to find someone they can trust. I played three years in the NFL and then became a financial manager, so I’ve seen both sides of the game. It is so easy to screw someone over. For example, a single document — a power of attorney — can ruin everything that a pro has worked so hard for. That’s why it is so important for athletes to do their due diligence and find someone they can trust.
Your agent, your best friend — hell, even the NFLPA and its financial advisor program — cannot adequately screen these people for you. It is of the utmost importance to know “where the f***” your money is. There must be transparency in everything transaction you make, and if there isn’t, someone might be lining his pockets. Athletes want to please. After all, they’re in the business of entertainment. But they’ve got to be prepared to fire someone if he or she isn’t doing good work.
Terrell Suggs continues to be a fantastic addition to the Ballers cast. I think it is so cool that we are watching what is essentially his real life story set in a fictional world. In real life, Suggs is an NFL player recovering from a devastating Achilles injury, and there have been reports that he may be mulling retirement. So, when we see him in the fictional world of Ballers talking to Spencer (played by The Rock) about his recovery, his doubts and his possible comeback, it feels like we are witnessing the actual conversations that Terrell must have had over the past six months with advisors and friends. These types of personal storylines will help make Ballers feel authentic.
One storyline that has continued from season 1 is Reggie’s tenuous relationship with the show’s star athlete, Vernon Littlefield. In episode 2, Reggie continues to be Reggie. The childhood best friend and would-be financial manager of Vernon who we met in season 1, Reggie is becoming more and more shady, and less and less helpful to his millionaire friend.
Wanting to feel like a productive member of society, Reggie approaches Joe (Rob Corddy’s character) about getting a “salary” as Vernon’s manager. First of all, what a ridiculous concept. You are asking for a salary to be a best friend. (At least Turtle was Vince’s driver and errand boy in Entourage.) Then, when finally talking to Vernon about the salary, Reggie tries to pull a fast one and he asks for $3,000 a week instead of the agreed-upon $1,500. Speaking of Entourage, this kind of thing is straight out of real life athlete entourages. And you know what they say about money and friends? They don’t mix well.
Oh, but whenever they start hiring best friends for $78,000 a year, will you please let me know?
Another relevant storyline this week is Spencer’s addiction to painkillers. This is a huge problem in the NFL. In fact, there is currently a class action lawsuit against the NFL involving painkillers. The claim is that the NFL and team doctors not only did not disclose the long term side effects of the drugs, but have also handed them out like candy without adequate regard for their addictive properties. And it certainly rings true with what I’ve seen and heard. It was incredibly easy to get painkillers if you needed them. And after playing football for 25 years of my life, I understand why. We play an insanely violent sport. As an offensive lineman, I literally hit someone every play. Helmet to helmet, every play. After games, I would have trouble sleeping, and I would be tempted to take anything to make the pain go away. And I only played three years in the NFL. Imagine what a 10-year vet feels.
That’s not to say there haven’t been huge developments in pain management and recovery. There are all types of ways to help in the recovery process. Team trainers are better and smarter than ever before. Also, simply reducing the amount of physical contact in practice is extremely beneficial. Hopefully, we will see a decrease in the use of painkillers over the next several years. But certainly, addressing the free-for-all attitude about painkillers in the NFL is a needed first step.
So I empathize with Spencer and the addiction storyline. With athletes and painkillers, it’s usually not a high they’re searching for, it’s simply an escape — an escape from continuous pain.
Good on the show for highlighting this important issue.
I just hope the show doesn’t let it fall by the wayside as time goes on.
You know, like the NFL has done.
Check out my other Ballers recaps from Season 2 here.