Alfred Morris from the Redskins is still driving a 1991 Mazda, so there may be hope.
Right! I saw that on SportsCenter the other day, itâs like a $1,500 coupe or something that he drives. Heâs got his shit together. I mean, really at the end of the day if youâre only going to make money for so long âŚ thatâs the other thing, too: If you play in the NFL youâre contractâs not guaranteed so if you get hurt, thatâs it. Not only do you get hurt, but if you get hurt bad your medical bills start to add up later on in life. The average NFL career is shorter than team sports âŚ so for Morris thatâs probably the wisest decision that he could make.
People on the internet fall on a couple of different sides with the Morris story, but donât you have to look at how much money heâs actually making before you pass judgment?
We really wanted to make an effort on that point and itâs one that we really wanted to bring into Broke. Â Because these days when you hear of these astronomical salaries the conversation is all about bankers, people like Romney with a lot of private equity who donât pay a lot of taxes — well, these athletes are in the highest tax bracket there is. Not only are they paying 35 percent in taxes to the federal government, then theyâre paying their agents and even playing taxes in every state that they play in. If youâve got a game in New York youâre paying New York state income tax. By the time these guys get done, the question becomes, Whatâs a million dollars? Is it $450,000? A million dollars isnât even a million dollars. Itâs not a question of how much theyâre making but how much of it are they taking home? And itâs not as much as people who are heading up banks and people in private equity guys who are paying very little in taxes.
Did you figure out over the course of making this film why people are so intrigued by this topic?
We talk about it around the office as our Great Recession doc. For the first time in any of our lifetimes, unless youâre old enough to have experienced the Great Depression, this is the first time that any of us has seen widespread financial devastation running through all classes of people. This is not just a recession where the poor people are worse off, but the middle class is hanging in there — this recession has devastated a wide swath of people. Either you were rich and you lost a lot of money in the market or you lost a lot through real estate investment or through businesses that went belly up. This is an unusual marker in American history thatâs gone on. Thatâs because this is the type of recession where everybody is affected in some way or another. I think thereâs a lot of interest in seeing how celebrities are coping or managing. It seems like everybody in the country is very attuned to the new financial realities. Itâs just a particular time and place for this type of subject to get discussed. No oneâs going to talk about this stuff when the stock market is booming and everyoneâs making money and living the good life.
Was there one piece or anecdote stood out to you that said, you know, Weâve got something here.
I think Andre Rison was particularly poignant because I grew up during his era of dominance. He was married to Left Eye and was a celebrity in his own right and I think that hearing his story, you totally get how this happened. Thereâs the spiraling nature of spending. Heâs got a line in the doc where he says that his people all of a sudden all had bank accounts where you could put in at any time and pull out at any time âŚ the check went in and everything else came out. Now, any guy in their twenties could probably add up all the stupid things you spend money on, given away or wasted. I think itâs something that really resonates, and if just have a lot more of it the scale is just that much more grand. Between Andreâs business investments, record labels, restaurants and these kinds of things itâs really demonstrated how quickly the money leaves the account.
Why were the leagues themselves hesitant to let you guys use their footage and do they have any culpability in your mind?
At the end of the day everybody has to take responsibility for themselves, their own choices and decisions. And a lot of the athletes that we interviewed own up to that fact. Now, are there things that the leagues and players unions could do more of? Absolutely. There could be more education, there could be more programs. Part of this — and this is whatâs interesting about the structure of the doc — is that we looked at about how it came to be that thereâs all this money in professional sports. Itâs a really a phenomenon of the last 30 years. Salaries really exploded in the early nineties in all four major team sports. I think weâre seeing the first wave of guys who made a lot of money as professional athletes who are now having problems. Hopefully the younger guys of the next generation to come through and start to earn these tremendous paychecks. This is really a product of guys coming into the leagues in the eighties and nineties making all this money so quickly. I think the leagues weren’t really prepared for the fallout and fell short when it came to really addressing these issues. Theyâre starting to make more efforts now but certainly thereâs a lot more to be done.
It does say something about our society, right, when this is such a common phenomenon?
Whatâs particularly interesting here is that weâve just coming off an era where everybody wildly overspent. Not just athletes but anybody that got a mortgage or credit card bill that they couldnât pay — was kind of this era of conspicous consumption. It was the McMansion or âMTV Cribsâ era of America. I think that really kind of drove a lot of debt-driven spending. And it didnât matter if you make fifty-grand or thirty-grand a year or if you make $10 million a year, you were probably involved with it in some way or another.
Itâs not always talked about but female athletes —
Well, there are certainly examples. Marion Jones. Sheryl Swoopes has had some financial problems. Dorothy Hamill is another famous example. In terms of covering it in a 77-minute film … it was the shortest documentary weâve ever made. It fits into an hour-and-a-half ESPN time slot. So by no means is the film comprehensive. I think our goal was kind of to get a conversation started. Thereâs not the same financial considerations as the major sports leagues, which we were kind of focused on covering. I donât want to get in trouble with my girlfriend here [laughs], but are there differences in the way that men and women spend money? Sure. I think we havenât seen as many examples but it might be by virtue of a smaller sample size.
Ultimately, do you think viewers will be sympathetic or angry when they see this movie?
The knee-jerk reaction is to say, âBoy, well how do you blow a hundred million dollars?â Itâs kind of tough to feel bad for someone in that situation. Itâs easy to dismiss this as an issue to discuss since itâs limited to a specific group of athletes who really donât know any better. The truth is that itâs so much more obvious in the way that it happens than anybody takes the time to think about. The stories and the scenarios are varied but all share very common themes. I hope people might come away with a different level of appreciation of the issue and realize money certainly is not the answer. A lot of these guys say that theyâre much happier now that they donât have the burden of managing and dealing with that amount of financial success.