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Tribeca 2012 Review - "Broke" Paints An Incomplete Picture Of The Many Forces Draining Athletes' Bank Accounts

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 26, 2012 7:33 PM
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NOTE: This was a work-in-progress screening of the film I attended.

What I think really should NOT be entertaining, humorous material actually is, given the flippant, superficial way in which the director tackles this otherwise grave issue concerning the financial failures faced by countless numbers of professional athletes, during and after their surprisingly short careers. Although the film’s entertainment value isn’t necessarily a negative; it all depends on what the filmmaker set out to accomplish with the film; and it also depends on who the film's target audience is (certainly not the athletes).

And I say surprisingly regarding the careers of these athletes because I'm not certain if the stats presented in the film - specifically on the average number of years a pro athlete's career lasts (3 1/2 for NFL players) - are as widely known as their salaries are - the latter publicized and impressed upon the minds of sports fans far more consistently than the former.

It's like being witness to a one-sided argument.

Other depressing statistics mentioned in the film include: that 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or facing serious financial stress within two years of ending their playing careers, and that 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retiring from the game; numbers that'll probably immediately raise a series of questions in your head as you watch this documentary, like the why, the how, the who, etc. And the film answers those questions (albeit hastily), breaking the film down into several chapters, we could call them, that highlight the individual ways athletes get themselves into these financial quagmires, despite making, in some cases, 1000 times the average American worker's salary - bad investments, women, irrational spending, not able to say no especially to loved ones, placing trust in, and getting hustled by managers, advisers, and more; really just irresponsible behavior. 

But each chapter is exactly just that, a highlight, and not necessarily what I'd call a thorough, comprehensive investigation. But then again, in the film's defense, I suppose if it did attempt to cover every single piece of this puzzle, it'll be far lengthier than its current rather short 80-minute running time. There isn't much one can uncover in such a brief block of time.

So my recommendation is that you consider this more of a starter film that will then encourage you to further investigate on your own; or at least, make you aware of the core matters that are the film's focus.

I just feel like there's a lot more here than what is actually revealed, as the film only scratches the surface of what's a much more complex, even historical concern; because there's a lot to be learned from this, and it's a film that's particularly timely as the NFL holds its draft this week, and, of the 200 or so college students who will be selected, some will become instant millionaires, and will find themselves in positions not-so unlike the cadre of players (now all retired) who were featured in this documentary, like Andre Rison, Jamal Mashburn, Bernie Kosar, Sean Salisbury, Antoine Walker and several others.

We only have to look ahead 5 to 10 years into the future and, taking the above statistics into consideration, we can expect that a hefty chunk of those 200+ very young men will have seen their careers come to an end; and of those, a just as significant percentage will more than likely be broke - keeping in mind that when this happens, many of them won't be very much older than when they entered the professional area, at 35 years old, and younger.

Unless there's some kind of early intervention that affects this cycle, reversing trends.

And the film does include running commentary from money managers, and financial advisors who've represented some of these athletes - commentary that primarily recollects stories of their past experiences with previous clients.

But you will likely gasp, or just laugh, at the ridiculous ways money is literally thrown away by these young gentlemen, who seem to believe that they have an overabundance of it. However, I'd say that they really aren't all that different from the average Joe, in a country in which materialism and individualism reign supreme. They just happen to live in a much higher tax bracket than most of us do. And they're also public figures, meaning they practically live their lives in public. The film introduces the notion that the culture at large should carry some of the blame for the predicaments these athletes find themselves in, but doesn't fully explore/elaborate on that; and that'll likely turn off some viewers who'll scuff at the idea of any blame being placed anywhere but on the shoulders of the athletes themselves.

Currently, the NFL conducts workshops for rookies covering these money matters and more (substance abuse, sex education, domestic violence, and more); but just how effective these programs are, is up for debate.

And just how effective this documentary is, depends on what the filmmaker's intent was, and who it's being targeted to. Like I said, it plays up the flash, I suppose to make it entertaining, and it's awfully short at around 80 minutes (with credits) given the subject matter it attempts to tackle; so I'd say go into it not expecting some contemplative, all-inclusive dissertation on the matter. I'd even argue that instead of serving as a warning shot for others, it instead glorifies the lifestyle led by some of these professionals who spend their limited resources recklessly, and seemingly without regret years later, now older and wiser.

So, I'd suggest you think of this as a primer.

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