Financial illiteracy: America’s true crisis


The hugs, kisses and tears were flowing in the NFL’s green room Thursday at the league’s annual draft, where players from across the country realized their dreams of playing professional football and cashing multimillion-dollar checks.

Unfortunately, nearly 80 percent will repeat the exercise three to five years after their careers are over, as they will cry and kiss goodbye a potential lifetime of financial security.

It is staggering to think that nearly four out of five athletes will file for bankruptcy after signing massive contracts. But when your life is filled with big (and multiple) houses, large entourages, splurging on bottle service at the clubs and handing out money like candy to friends and family, it is no wonder that these men with big talent can be so careless with money.

Why?

Because the average athlete is trained not to worry about things in life such as paying your bills, saving and investing. They are told from day one: Focus on nothing but football and let someone else handle the other stuff. That’s why the teams, whether its high school, college or the pros, make it their business to take care of all of their needs. They need that athlete in tip-top shape to perform on game day.

But that does nothing for the athlete to handle sudden riches and fame. The NCAA doesn’t help this. They don’t want agents and financial advisers shuffling money under the table to a player. The NCAA just wants to keep cashing their big checks. However, that player needs training and assistance in this area of their life, more than any other.

And the reality is that most of these players who will be bankrupt are African-American. They are coming from impoverished backgrounds where their family members don’t know a thing about stocks, bonds, T-bills, mutual funds and other investment strategies.

Yet this is an American problem, and not just one affecting athletes. Financial literacy is essential, but it is typically last on the list of things to learn in our education system.

I have no doubt that there should be mandatory courses in high school on money management and financial literacy. We see too many people making horrible choices with money. It’s not because they are dumb; they simply don’t know what’s best.

That financial planning should carry over to college, where students are assaulted with cheap and easy credit cards that can get them into trouble later.

This is even more critical with an increasing number of states allowing employers to take your credit report into consideration when applying for a job.

In 1991, I was one of the top journalism students in the country, and the editors of the Birmingham News wanted to hire me when I graduated. But their human resources department vetoed their decision. Why? My credit score.

I barely had a chance to establish credit while in college, but poor financial decisions, namely one of those easy credit cards, prevented my hiring. Sure, I was able to land another job with the Austin American-Statesman, but imagine if I didn’t have multiple options.

This need for financial literacy has led to many churches to launching a financial ministry to teach their members about credit scores, investing and money management. The Bible speaks of being good stewards of our resources, and the church can certainly play a leading role.

As the income inequality gap widens, the rich will get richer and the poorer will get poorer. It’s not solely about who earns the highest income. We have to come to the conclusion that a big difference between the haves and have-nots is who knows and who knows not.

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Roland S. Martin is senior political analyst for TV One and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.”