Last week, I was privileged to be one of the presenters at the 2015 Sports Financial Advisors Association Conference at The McCormick Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. During the two days at the conference, I sat at a table with Craig S. Wolman, a CPA and business manager at New York City-based Cohn Reznick.
Besides having a wry sense of humor (which sustained the audience well as he discussed some of the drier topics last week), he’s a very credible person who works with athletes in all four of the major sports. He’s been working with the members of the sports and entertainment industry for 15 years as a CPA and advisor.
He’s very strong in one area that I’m very weak: hockey. I asked him if working with hockey players is different from working with football players. To his credit, he doesn’t subscribe to the standard ‘all athletes are the same’ schtick.
“As a group I’ve always enjoyed working with hockey players the most,” he said. “They seem to be the most genuine, and they really rely on the help of their advisors. A hockey player leaves home when he’s 13 or 14, goes and plays juniors in these really developmental minor leagues in Western Canada, to really focus on their game. Baseball and football players, they’re at home, surrounded by where they grew up, their family and friends, all through high school, then to college for a little bit.
“Hockey players tend to really rely more on their help, but it doesn’t make them any more savvy or less susceptible.”
He referred to an incident in the news in the past year that might seem hard to believe.
“A year ago, the Columbus Bluejackets’ Jack Johnson had to file for bankruptcy because his own parents were stealing from him,” he said. “They were taking out mortgages in his name and borrowing against it. A lot of parents feel like they’re owed it.
“Hockey players, in most areas, you have to get up really early for rink times and practices, and there are 5 a.m. sessions, and kids that are 9 and 10 years old don’t drive themselves. So the parents say, ‘hey , I earned this for 10 years. You’re my golden parachute.’ Anybody can fall prey. Nobody is immune.”
It’s certainly not something endemic to hockey. An incident from last week illustrates it on the college level.
“The family, they’re itching for that three-year window to expire so they can benefit,” Craig said. “Look at the article last week about LSU RB Leonard Fournette, where there he invented a catch phrase, BUGA (Being United Generates Attitude) Nation, and the family was capitalizing by setting up a website and making T-shirts, and the NCAA found out about it and they squashed it right away.
“Nothing really happened. It was his mother, that was creating the website. They had investors, and a lot of time, the outside investors are using the family as well. They promise the family money for this until the son declares.”
If you’re seeking to work with athletes one day, there are two things to consider. One, maybe working with their money is your avenue — there’s certainly a need to protect these young, largely naive men. Two, the people you might be protecting them from are their close friends and family members, which is easier than it sounds.
“It’s everywhere,” Craig said. “The parents can’t wait to get their claws in there. And yeah, they let the kids know. (The players) want to take care of everybody. The parents may not come right out and say it, but the players know. They hear, ‘when you make it, I want this,’ etc. They’ve seen what other athletes have done when they had their turn.”