EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On a morning in mid-September, former National Football League player Patrick Kerney stood in front of an audience of rookies from the New York Giants.
His agenda: to help the young players avoid bad spending habits, as well as teach basic money management and investing concepts.
"When you decide to spend that dollar on goods and services today instead of investing for the future, you are forgoing what that dollar could become," Kerney explained to young Giants players, including quarterback Daniel Jones.
He gets where they are coming from.
Kerney spent 11 seasons as an NFL defensive end — first for the Atlanta Falcons and later for the Seattle Seahawks. After retiring, he turned to finance and is now principal of Kerney Insurance.
He also travels around the country, visiting NFL teams to help financially educate players.
"I look back now, I thought I knew a decent bit," Kerney told CNBC. "I knew nothing.
"That's the hard part — this invulnerability that comes with being a professional athlete," he added. "And, you know, being surrounded by 'yes' men, it warps your mind."
The lack of financial awareness among players is something individual teams and the NFL, now celebrating its 100th season, have been paying more attention to in recent years.
Yet athletes are not alone. Their paychecks just happen to be a lot bigger than most of the rest of us.
"So many guys come into this with sort of the dumb-jock complex, without realizing that everyone else their age also has no knowledge of what to do from a fiscal standpoint or an investment standpoint," Kerney said.
The issue for players is that their NFL careers and peak earnings years are relatively short. So, if they don't make the right money moves, they could still end up destitute.
In fact, according to a 2015 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 15.7% of NFL players filed for bankruptcy within 12 years of retirement. The researchers looked at data on all players drafted from 1996 to 2003.
Former Giants wide receiver David Tyree understands how it can happen. During his early years, he made several mistakes — financial and otherwise. In his second season, he was arrested for drug possession.
"I was very frivolous. There was no budget. There was no advisor. There was no counsel," said Tyree.
"With that recipe, it certainly leads to a lot of poor decisions," he added. "And, honestly, after my rookie year — I was broke."
Tyree turned things around. He made the famous helmet catch in the 2008 Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, helping propel the team to the championship.
He is now director of player engagement for the Giants and arranges Kerney's meetings.
In those meetings, Kerney focuses on several key strategies.
Players need to make sure they are not spending more than they are making.
While it sounds simple, it is easy to start piling up credit card debt.
If that is happening, they have a spending problem, Kerney pointed out. That means it's time to scale back.
Kerney advises avoiding big, unnecessary purchases. Instead, he said people should invest that money and watch it grow.
"It's reasonable to expect your buying power to double every 10 years if you are willing to educate yourself," he told the Giants rookies.
One of his favorite examples is the expensive watch, the cost of which, if invested instead, could multiply many times over.
"This is what sort of gets me at the draft and with young spenders," Kerney said.
"When I see the $100,000 watch on their wrist — I'm not judging them, I'm not telling guys what to spend on and what not to — but I wonder, do you think the jeweler told them that $100,000 watch actually cost them $6.4 million?"
The choice of financial advisor can make or break players' future returns, Kerney said.
What they shouldn't do is base their decision on whether the advisor represents other teammates, or if he or she is nice or takes them out to a nice dinner.
Instead, access the advisor's credibility and look at his or her track record — what the returns have been over the years.
"We, as young people, don't ever think of ourselves as employers," Kerney said.
"But when we hire a financial advisor, we are the employer and often made to think like an employee and are afraid to ask probing questions."
In addition to rookies, Kerney also meets with team veterans.
One of them is Giants wide receiver Russell Shepard. As a seven-year veteran, he's seen a lot of young players unsure about what to do with their newfound wealth.
He thinks its time to shift the conversation in the locker room.
"We want to get the professional athletes of any sport, of any gender, to change the conversations from cars, clothes to investments, you know, financial steps, taxes, things like that," said Shepard, who helps teach financial literacy to young athletes through his nonprofit, The Shepard Family Foundation.
Giants safety Michael Thomas agrees.
"It's important for not just rookies but for vets, too," said Thomas, who also includes personal finance lessons as part of his youth football camp, Camp Mike T.
"Have the conversation of, 'What have you done with your money? … What are you investing in? What have you learned?" he added. "So you can keep growing and you don't make the same mistakes."
Kerney hopes those who attend his class take his advice.
"I really want these young guys to understand what this opportunity is," he said.
"To get this much money this early in life, if you are educated, the runway of decades ahead of them makes a ton of difference," he added. "They have the chance to change the trajectory of their family for generations."
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