On June 23rd, 2006, former NFL players sued the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) and the National Football League for endorsing an investment plan that turned out to be a scam, losing around 20 million dollars for the seven players involved. The players involved, including former safeties Blaine Bishop and Steve Atwater, have claimed that the scam did not bankrupt them but certainly harms their future ability to provide for their families on what should have been sufficient savings from their playing careers. The NFL and NFLPA claims that the players should have spoke with them first before a lawsuit was brought but at present it seems that the NFL has been exposed a bit for exploiting its assets and they are back pedaling a bit in order to cushion the blow from other players and fans. The question is whether or not the NFL should be blamed for what its players have done or if they should be accountable for every failed investment plan that they give to players, many of whom have millions of dollars earned in their career.
The investment plan involved a hedge fund run by Kirk Wright, an investment banker out of Southern Florida. The NFL and NFLPA endorsed this investment plan and ensured players that Wright was above board and fully licensed as an investment broker. In the end, however, the investment plan failed miserably and the seven invested players lost a significant amount of money. As well, Wright has lost money for at least 500 investors in the last decade and much of the invested money is lost or missing. Wright was arrested in May 2006 on charges by the SEC of fraud. Considering the background of Wright and the importance of investing for many of the leagues players, it would seem that the NFL is at fault here for not doing thorough research.
This last point is a fair critique of how the NFL relates to its players. In the run up to the NFL draft and throughout a player’s career, the NFL and its member teams prod and poke at every bit of a player’s past, his habits, his physical abilities, and so on. Isn’t it fair for NFL players to assume the same level of investigation from its own union and from the league at large? NFL players are assailed at the beginning of their careers with the problems of having their extended family ask for money or favors, from the temptations of living the high life, and from having too much money too soon. These pitfalls are all off the field issues and they don’t involve the difficulties and rigors of playing a 16 game NFL schedule year in and year out. NFL players, as with any group who belong to unions, should expect more from their representation and should not have to worry about losing all of their money. While these men are grown adults and can certainly do research on their own, the NFLPA should not be endorsing plans that will cause their members harm. Though they are highly paid athletes, the NFLPA exists in order to protect them from the pitfalls. However, NFL players like Steve Atwater and Blaine Bishop may start warning younger players to avoid the pitfalls of being represented by the NFLPA.