NFL Players Tackle Wharton
At a time when their salaries average over $1 million and the league hands out over a billion dollars annually in signing and roster bonuses, many NFL players still retire without even owning their own homes.
“The majority of our players are from urban, single-family households,” New York Jets Center Kevin Mawae explained. “They didn’t have a lot of money coming into the league, and there was no model for responsible spending in their early childhood. A lot of them just think, ‘I’m rich now, I’ll blow it all.’”
In order to prevent such future financial meltdowns and to encourage positive entrepreneurial and money-management strategies, the Wharton Sports Business Initiative and Wharton Executive Education Programs joined forces to offer 35 NFL players two three-day seminars in February and April. In the first session, the athletes attended classes and workshops that covered the stock market, entrepreneurship, real-estate development, and negotiations. Players returned for a three-day follow-up session after spending a month on individual real-estate and finance projects.
By attending classes on campus with some of Wharton’s top professors, the athletes will also “become part of the Wharton network,” explained program director Kenneth Shropshire, who is also a professor of legal studies and business ethics. He added that NFL players who complete the course will be able to reach out to Wharton professors and alumni for financial guidance in the future.
The league is “trying to educate us more because we’re in such a unique situation,” said Kailee Wong, inside linebacker for the Houston Texans. Wong added that NFL players are prime targets for theft or fraud, since many players come into big money in their early 20s but “aren’t lawyered-up as quickly” as the higher-paid baseball and basketball players.
The program has a special focus on players’ post-NFL planswhether that’s starting a new business or simply learning how to make the most of their investments.
“These classes are meant to help us further our business sense and become more than just football players,” Mawae said. “We’re not just dumb jocks.”
Players were selected for the program based on their years in the league and business experience. Applications also consisted of a personal statement, which Wong said was meant to “weed out the lazy people.”
Though similar sports business programs are available at Stanford, Harvard, and Northwestern, Mawae said that Penn’s program is “probably the most sought-after course. Guys were applying two or three months in advance.”
Both Mawae and Wong plan to share their newfound knowledge with their teammateseven if not prompted to do so. “A lot of times they’re afraid to ask for help,” Mawae said, adding that the players enrolled in the Wharton program are also typically the ones “leading in the locker room.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of us learn by our mistakes,” said Mawae. “If I can help one guy per year with what I learned here, then I’ve done my job.”
Molly Petrilla C’06
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