Today’s guest blog post has been submitted by Arielle Moyal, a UCLA Basketball employee and Bruins alum. Arielle also writes for Lakersnation.co
I’ve witnessed a growing trend in most professional sports, one in which is displayed in post game interviews, magazines, and all over social media sites, like Instagram. Self promotion has seemingly taken new heights in this generation of young person, one I have been guilty of myself, and ultimately run-amuck in professional sports. It’s the ultimate need of every modern day athlete to not only be sport minded, but celebrity-like.
This trend is understandable. If you had the kind of cash to buy $2000 dollar faded Louis Vitton jeans over a $40 buck Forever 21 look alike, why not? But keeping up with the hottest looks, the newest cars, and the finest wrist swag leaves many players wishing they had spent smarter when they were actually getting paychecks. Think about it; on average, 200 college kids become instant millionaires the minute the NFL draft ends each year. Instant millionaires. Talk about temptation.
I think USA Today said it best: “How can anyone blow through at least several hundred thousand dollars, and perhaps tens of millions of dollars, in a few years?” I probably won’t ever make in a lifetime what a lot of these top athletes make in a year. Yet, a multitude of pro athletes have spent every last dime earned in the league and filed for bankruptcy. The article continued to journal striking statistics from 2009 put out by SI. Here, Sports Illustrated estimated in 2009 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.
The assumption that the money will keep coming is too grave. Every game is a chance a player doesn’t get hurt and become worthless. The increasing trend of athletes injuring themselves should tell you it’s not if an athlete gets hurt, it’s when. The only difference is how badly that player takes a tumble. Athletes aren’t super human; I know it must feel like LeBron James is uncommonly gifted. On any day, the Heat phenom may make a 10 foot high dunk look easy, but a simple land at the wrong degree can send his foot one way and his knee the other.
I asked a basketball player I know what he thought I meant when I said “the athlete as the celebrity”. He simply replied, “you know; the guys who have their own style of dress, sort of like the ones that get in magazines, and have commercials.” Don’t get me wrong; if you can be flashy outside of your job as an athlete, and still perform well, do what you want to do. Unfortunately, in today’s world we are witnessing professional athletes becoming more and more inflated because of this second job as celeb that then spills over into their game. Take Russell Westbrook, who’s made the game day fashion trend epic. Recently, the Thunder PG was featured in an ESPN spread that was a little bit about basketball, and a lot about what he was wearing. On the cover photo tagline, the photographer adds the caption “you may not agree with Russell Westbrook’s fashion choices, but one thing you can’t argue; the man knows how to turn heads (on and off the court).” He wasn’t joking; progressively as Russell’s status has risen due to hard on court performance it has also been puffed up with his off-court swagger. This I blame for his increasingly immature behavior this past season in the media and during games. If you need a refresher, you can watch this post game interview gone awry or his mid-game temper tantrum at teammate Thabo Sefolosha.
As an athlete, you’re only duty is to perform. It is not about getting noticed for the wrong reasons. I continued my conversation with my basketball player friend, as we sort of got to talking about why some athletes seem to rub us the wrong way, and others don’t. “Dwight Howard always jokes off the court, but I don’t like him because he can’t carry out what he should be doing,” my friend said. “In his commercials and on his Twitter he is always funny, but then he has a really bad game and instead of taking responsibility, he throws his teammates under the bus, and I don’t like that.”
Does celebrity, then, coincide with immaturity? I argue it doesn’t. Kevin Durant has a successful shoe line, a sponsorship with Gatorade, and can still rock a pretty fly game day outfit while still being an admitted Mamma’s boy. Not only, Durant proves it’s not always just about him; recently, the Thunder superstar gave $1 million dollars to the American Red Cross to assist with disaster relief efforts after the tornado that swept through Oklahoma on May 20th , 2013.
I chose these two players for a reason; both Durant and Westbrook have created an unbelievable presence in the NBA while on the Thunder, yet both players have digressed in how they view themselves, their brand, and their careers. Russell is flashier, while Durant takes a cooler perspective. Only time will tell to see who winds up with more dough 10 years after retirement.
Although I use mostly basketball examples, simply as it is the sport I know the best, you could transfer this comparison to players on all spectrums. Mike Tyson, who gained recognition as the boxing bad boy, went broke, and was forced to make The Hangover just to get a paycheck. Wide receiver Terrell Owens was one of the best NFL pass catchers, yet is guilty of losing his almost $70 million dollars and going bankrupt . Hockey legend Darren McCarty played 13 seasons in the NHL, racking up $10 million dollars, and then blowing it all.
Money and status is an arms race. Who has the best post game blouse. What athlete gets the most exclusive Lambo. Which team gets the coolest ADIDAS or Nike sponsorship. In the end, no one really wins. Your shoes, whether lime green mink fur atrocities or a pair of overly manufactured Chucks, get you to the same place. So why do players do it…
Growing up in Los Angeles, I grew up a kid of the trends and understand the desire to be cool. Celebrity is saturated in LA, and for someone who has lived here their whole life, you recognize it gets old pretty quick. Literally. The shoes you bought last week could very well be out of style by the coming Monday. But these players still buy them, along with the matching paisley blouse and brown calf leather pants.
I argue that most athletes are not given a money management course, nor are they even financially literate. I don’t pretend I am, and I believe the modern American struggles with understanding how to manage their money. But being accustomed to “life in the fast lane” and watching the growing trend of flashy music, studded duds, and over the top everything makes the temptation to be cool just too great. Unfortunately, the athlete as celebrity is taking a toll on the mentality of professional sports. Egos spill over into games. Commercials and endorsement deals take precedence over gym practice and strength training. Clubbing and alcohol replaces the family structure.
My biggest fear to come of this is not that professional athletes go broke, but the impression they make. I hope that players understand sports mimic society. Children look up to them as heroes and try to emulate them as much as possible. Which is why 14 year olds have iPhones that cost half of my rent a month, wear designer shoes to school that they can’t get scuffed, and know the roster to the Los Angeles Lakers before they can name all 50 states. Gone are the days where commercials included Michael Jordan and Buggs Bunny. Michael Jordan made such a successful business with his shoe line, and his old school commercials still emphasized why you bought the shoe in the first place, to be better at basketball. Instead you get Dwight Howard flashing his guns and duck facing behind will.i.am for an NBA playoff promo that emulates the exact flash I’ve been talking about. Remind me again what you are selling?
When it comes down to it, this over emphasis on shoving the Hollywood mentality will just wind up hurting the sports business; more and more players be left with less and less. Athletes need to be wary of this growing trend to be cool and realize it will leave many of them forgotten and broke.