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Joe Gibbs helping Washington Redskins players to gain the financial savvy he lacked when he was younger

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 4, 2010; D01

Unbeknownst to all but a handful of people, Joe Gibbs spent most of two days at Redskins Park on June 1-2. He met with many of the team's key veterans, two of their wives and about 20 players in all, sandwiching the time during the team's organized team activities.

He is involved. Very involved.

"I wanted to give back," Gibbs said in a telephone interview. "I just thought this was something I could do for the players."

Joe Gibbs talked money with the Redskins early last month. For help, he enlisted two university professors with Harvard MBAs.

He humbly spoke of how, during the early 1980s in Washington, Gibbs lost his personal fortune because of financial ignorance. How he felt helpless when several of his former players -- some in contract disputes -- confessed to him about making bad business decisions that negatively affected their careers. And how every team in the NFL needs the kind of OTA that recently transpired in Ashburn: a free-of-charge financial seminar Gibbs partnered with Strayer University to put on.

"What Coach Gibbs felt compelled to do means a lot," said London Fletcher, a former Pro Bowl linebacker who took part in the nine-hour, three-session class over a week and a half with teammates Phillip Daniels, Kedric Golston, Reed Doughty and other players. The wives of Daniels and Golston also attended.

"I'm fairly conservative -- some would say tight," Fletcher added. "But I have friends who have situations where once they're done playing, they fell on hard times. Is it needed? We just saw a stat that after retirement about 80 percent of players end up in financial ruin. What do you think?"

According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated story, 78 percent of all NFL players go bankrupt or are in financial duress just two years into retirement. Which makes the furor of the past month feel a little like small potatoes, no?

For all the consternation over a certain lineman not showing his face around Redskins Park, Albert Haynesworth could have used that seminar more than a new defensive scheme; he currently faces three lawsuits and other legal filings.

Mark Brunell, the former Redskins quarterback who has signed playing contracts for $52 million during his career, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week because he could no longer pay off a series of bad business loans when a housing investment backfired.

Young, black defensive stars.

Aging, white quarterbacks.

Hall of Fame coaches.

As Gibbs learned a long time ago, banks don't discriminate at collection time.

About the time he won his first of three Super Bowls and started to become the most revered sports figure in Washington history, Gibbs got involved in an Oklahoma real estate deal that went belly up. He lost everything because he didn't understand his liability if another person signed on his behalf.

"It probably took [his wife] Pat and me 4 1/2 years to pay off our debts," Gibbs said. "I just didn't know anything, like the difference between a simple partnership and an LLC."

He also remembered some of his dejected former players who confided in him. "To be quite truthful, when a player who was very good or great had that going on while he was playing, it affected him; I could see it," Gibbs said. "I just felt helpless. There really wasn't a lot I could do there, you know?"

Hence, Gibbs's brainstorm a couple of months ago: Instead of one NFL-sponsored seminar players could sign up for at a certain time of year, why not bring the class to the training facility?

Said Robert Silberman, the chairman and chief executive of Strayer Education, Inc., Gibbs "came to us and essentially asked, 'Can you put together a short course where they can ask the right questions of their financial advisers, attorneys and agents?' As he put it, he thought there was a real dearth of instruction and education. His concern was a number of pro athletes have not had sufficient instruction in finances."

The next step was getting the owner and the current coach to go along, which they willingly did.

"Joe asked us to support this program, and we're happy to oblige," Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said through a team spokesman. "Anything that helps players we're in full support of."

When the players shuffled into the room at Redskins Park used for the seminar early last month, Gibbs actually shared his own personal story of financial loss and embarrassment. Then Strayer professors Meghan Rodgers and Angela Harris began.

Investments. Spending habits. Savings. Taxes. Credit cards.

"Something as simple as creating a budget, how to put away money properly, looking at our window of earning opportunity," Fletcher said. "Or what kind of questions to ask financial advisers, how to set up a business to reduce your liability in case things go wrong."

Gibbs said of the 20 who took part, "about 15 of 'em were real serious," and ended up receiving completion certificates after finishing with an online portion of the seminar.

"Some of them have a lot of money now; some of them don't have a lot of money, relatively speaking," Gibbs said. "Didn't matter. I just wanted all those guys I coached with the Redskins to be better prepared in life to handle their finances.

"I said: 'I'm not going to charge you anything. We're not recommending any investments. We don't want to ask you for anything. This is a gift.' "

The gift of having something to fall back on once the cheering stops, the gift of not making the same mistakes a young, impressionable man made in his first steps on the way to Canton because he didn't know how to protect his assets.

"I'd really like to talk to the league and the union about doing something like this leaguewide," he said. "Just makes sense."

When a $100 million defensive lineman hasn't repaid a $2.38 million loan to a Knoxville, Tenn., bank, when a veteran quarterback is left holding the bag in multiple, failed real estate investments -- when just 22 percent of NFL players are thriving two years after they leave the game -- as usual it's hard to argue with Joe Jackson Gibbs.

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