Fred Taylor, long one of my favorite athletes, has one of the most riveting, sonorous, slow-diesel-tug, coal-black – and relentlessly honest – basso profundo voices you’ll ever hear. It’s an Everglades-Florida voice which –unlike that of, say, James Earl Jones – has no grafted-on practiced lilt or enunciation, and it neither asks you to listen, nor seeks to shut you out. Taylor’s audio-earnestness, in fact, is of is of a piece with his run-you-over physical durability and longevity which made him one of the best NFL backs of all time.
Taylor last year hooked on with the Patriots, but injuries kept him from being at all productive, and he retired again – without any of the rancor, fanfare, or self-pity many athletes display at career-end. Over the years, as I’ve watched, the man always just seems to quietly deliver his own brand of down-to-earth. Eric Adelson’s August 19 article, “Ex-NFL Running Back Fred Taylor Former Agent Who Defrauded Him of Millions,” adds one more to Taylor’s long list of apparent virtues: Forgiveness.
In fact, as Adelson discloses, Taylor lost about $3.6 million as result of malversations between 1998 and 2002– at a time when Taylor consistently led the NFL in yardage – by his erstwhile agent, Tank Black. Black, a former South Carolina assistant coach who built an sports agent practice big enough so that his net worth was at one time estimated as high as $100 million, served six years in prison for crimes associated with his mis-handling of money belonging to his clients. And Taylor, in fact, found himself in 2002 with so little money that he had to retain bank lending to get through the year.
What’s notable is Taylor’s recent decision to contact Black. Taylor phoned him, and explained to Adelson that he “had to forgive [Black]” and that “I was pissed for a while. I was pissed for a long time.” But here’s what he told Black when he called him: “thank you for helping me helping make me the man I am.” That’s Fred Taylor.
I mention Taylor’s story not just because it again shows his remarkable, consistent grace, but also because the massive theft by his own agent is: a) a cautionary tale for the many unwary athletes looking to “go pro” in any sport; and b) a good example why those unwary athletes must educate themselves by reading basic primers like Marc Isenberg’s 2008 “Money Players: A Guide to Success in Sports, Business and Life for Current and Future Pro Athletes.” This book is an excellent, prophylactic fire-retardant against ‘getting burned’: it gives rudimentary but broad-based advice, valuable for any college athlete considering going pro, about protecting his financial future, both short-and-long-term.
Isenberg covers the basics –he properly emphasizes the two bedrock notions of utilizing compound interest, and choosing an agent not just wisely, but skeptically – but it’s also worthy to repeat here some elements of his more detailed “Short simple guide to financial success”:
“1) Pay off all credit card debt; 2) Fund your 401(k) and other available retirement accounts to the max; 3) Include all financial help to friends and family contributions charity in your ‘rule of 10’ budget; 4) Hire good confident ethical business advisors; 5) Do not give anyone full power of attorney; 6) Buy the insurance you need; and 7) Do not invest money you cannot afford to lose in night clubs, restaurants, and other risky propositions.”
Perhaps the most important advice rendered by Isenberg has to do with selecting the right agent, noting “The keywords here are you select the agent, rather than having the agents like you through becoming your friend and giving you gifts.” Isenberg recommends that the player designate an intermediary (including, possibly, his college’s professional sports counseling panel) to help screen and finally select an agent. (I heard an interview several years ago in which one former pro athlete gave substantially similar advice: “Pick a Nerd.”) Needless to say, a college campus should be an excellent place for an athlete to obtain intelligent, objective advice.
There’s a broader, more serious point here, highlighted by the recent revelations at UNC about the “phony” courses apparently utilized by a large number of UNC basketball and football players: conscientious athletic directors should insure that every college athlete takes one course on the basics of Financial Planning – and ‘Money Players’ should be a part of any such course.
[Note: Fred Taylor’s son has, I believe, matriculated at Florida this month, after having been one of the most highly-sought-after high school running backs in the country.]