Navigating the Finance Game as an Athlete

Insights from a Former Pro Turned Financial Advisor

Entering the League: A New Journey Begins

Signing a contract to play in the NFL (or any professional sports team) is a life-changing experience. Everything in your life shifts in real-time—how you see yourself, how your friends and family see you, how strangers see you.

You've chased this dream since childhood; it feels like the ultimate achievement because it is. But you quickly realize you’re back at new starting point. The new challenge is to take a dream fulfilled and turn it into a professional career with staying power.

There’s suddenly a target on your back. People assume you're wealthy overnight, and people want a piece of the pie.

Friends, family, and business owners approach constantly approach you with propositions, often with a sense of entitlement. They see they can benefit from your new ‘status’ in the here and now. But they don’t see (or don't care about) the risks you face—how one play or one injury can alter your financial future.

The pressure of playing your sport at a high level compounded by statistics about athletes' financial hardships post-career.

Many service providers lead with this stat as a way to create leverage. They position themselves as the ‘expert’ that will keep you on the good side of the equation.

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As an athlete, you find yourself trying to thread a needle; enjoying the fact you've achieved something that’s damn near statistically impossible; working hard on the field to make the income sustainable; while trying to build financial security off the field that keeps you from becoming one of the statistics everyone talks about.

Choosing a Financial Advisor: Blind Trust

The general public and leagues push financial advisors as THE solution to remedy the challenges athletes face in their post-sports life.

That's the first major catch. As a young athlete, you’re hiring for a long-term role you probably don’t fully understand. You're evaluating a professional's ability to manage and grow your wealth, but you lack the experience to know what good financial management looks like.

My journey was no different. I was a newly drafted 23 year old, interviewing financial advisors. They all spoke in financial jargon, using stats and charts that promised long-term success. They all sounded the same.

How can I hold this person accountable without a better understanding what success in the role looks like?

In hindsight I hired my financial advisor based on a gut feeling he understood me, the person vs. a clear financial vision. Many athletes make similar decisions, often without fully understanding the long-term implications.

Jumping in the Game as an Advisor

Over a decade later, I found myself on the other side of the equation. After years as a hands-on startup investor and business consultant, I decided to get licensed and become a financial advisor.

In the years prior, I informally advised a handful athletes on their business interests and investments. I saw a pattern. Athletes’ private business portfolios rarely aligned with the portfolios their financial advisors were managing. Everything was siloed.

That’s when the though of becoming a licensed advisor first crossed my mind. I thought I add more value to athletes working inside their internal team vs. externally.

In 2021, I made the decision. I started studying for the exams (SIE, Series 7, and Series 66). Four months later, I was a fully licensed advisor and hit the road to recruit new clients for my firm.

One early client stood out.

He was a young NFL player who was very aware of his position on the roster. He’d played a few years, making league minimum salary. He'd been at the firm a couple years, and was a model client. He saved his on-field money, and was rightly looking for ways to generate additional revenue streams. He was doing everything the right way.

He was the ideal client — this type of relationship is why I made the move.

We set up time to explore his business ideas and I helped him think through and evaluate each opportunity.

A couple weeks later, compliance alerted me not to speak about any outside business with clients. The message also contained an interesting note to my supervisor to 'keep a watchful eye' on my accounts and 'give special attention to my emails.’

At that moment, I started planning my exit from the firm. I knew I couldn’t execute the role I envisioned in this environment.

The Reality About Financial Services for Athletes

Financial advisory and brokerage firms operate as ‘firm-first’ fiduciaries. Their business upside is married to assets under management (AUM).

Advisors manage in-house client investment accounts, and get compensated based on fees tied to AUM. Firms are constantly chasing new clients to add AUM.

But helping clients align their private business opportunities and alternative investments doesn’t align with the firm’s business interests.

Assets invested into private opportunities are assets that are leaving the brokerage firm, which reduces compensation. At the same time advisors are likely fearful of facing reputation risk when private deals don’t work as planned.

So, when it comes to private business and alternative investments, athletes are pretty much on their own to source, evaluate, manage these opportunities.

Changing the Paradigm

to give athletes a different perspective on how to navigate their business and financial interests.

As an athlete, you feel immense pressure trying to secure long-term business and financial success within a very small window that your playing career will last. You have more access to opportunities than ever before.

But with access comes intense scrutiny. Every decision is analyzed in hindsight; the wins and losses closely watched by those looking to boost their own influence. Regardless of the outcome, you become either a case study or a cautionary tale, with your experiences used to serve others' agendas.

The only path to ensuring your interests align is to become more proactive.

You don’t need to be an expert. But you should be able to make sense of every business and financial opportunity you’re engaged in. Leaning into this role means learning to embrace the discomfort of the unknown. As an athlete, you know this comfort only comes with getting more reps and exposure. Be intentional about creating opportunities to get more reps.

The losses will teach more than the wins; but each lesson is necessary. That's when you can set the rules of engagement and ensure your team is playing on your terms:

  • Why am I exploring this opportunity?

  • What defines a win for me in this opportunity?

  • How does moving on this opportunity limit my ability to pursue others?

  • How does this opportunity impact my overall financial picture?

Digging into questions like these allow you to start building the confidence to hold your team accountable. Don't just reactively listen to what others tell you. Seek the knowledge and exposure that helps you pursue your unique goals. If you don’t know your goals, the first step is to slow down and define what they are.

Once you have clarity, challenge your advisors to deliver — it’s their job as fiduciaries.

Ready to take the next step?

If you're searching for a change but unsure where to begin, check out these two powerful tools from Separation Playbook:

📚 Rise of the Executive Athlete→
This white paper explores a game-changing new perspective on athlete business development and management that redefines athletes as visionary leaders, similar to CEOs

🛠️ Get the Self Scout OS
A personal strategic plan to align your personal growth and professional development with long-term goals, designing a path to sustainable business success.