Tuesday is a big night for South Florida on television, and not because CSI: Miami or Miami Vice have risen from their graves to stalk the airwaves like video zombies. For once, the focus is not on homicidal maniacs with a taste for Art Deco but on our local studios, who’ve produced two crackerjack documentaries.
Rakontur’s Billy Corben, who has made a career out of Florida dysfunction ranging from campus rape ( Raw Deal) to narcotrafficking ( Cocaine Cowboys) to University of Miami football ( The U), is painting on a broader canvas with Broke, a sobering exploration of how pro athletes fritter away awesome sums of money.
And 2C Media’s Chris Sloan and Carla Kaufman Sloan have somehow turned the seemingly anarchic chaos at Miami International Airport into a Travel Channel documentary series, Airport 24/7: Miami, that’s fast, funny and fascinating.
Broke, airing as an episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 (the same documentary series for which The U was made), is a comprehensive look at a phenomenon that we usually glimpse only in tut-tut fragments as some star athlete declares bankruptcy, the tens of millions of dollars from his last contract vanishing in a haze of bling and hoochies.
What Broke makes clear is that financial catastrophe is the rule for pro athletes rather than the exception. More than three-quarters of NFL players are in serious financial jams within two years after retirement. About 60 percent of NBA players are broke five years after they stop playing.
Much of the problem is due to immaturity, awful judgment and just plain stupidity, and Broke doesn’t go lightly on that: Strip-club binges where jocks “make it rain” (throwing fistfuls of $100 bills in the air while the dancers scramble to collect them) while quaffing $5,000-a-bottle Louis XIII cognac. Picking up dinner tabs of $56,000. Boxer Mike Tyson, the poster boy for sports financial dereliction — he made $400 million in his career and doesn’t have a penny of it left — once bought half a million bucks worth of jewelry in a single hour.
Former NFL quarterback Sean Salisbury was so smitten to be chosen for an American Express black card (it arrives in a cool James Bond-style attaché case) by running up a $16,000 bill the first month he had it. When he had to write the check, he confesses, “I about threw up.” Another athlete who got the mental wakeup call before it was NBA player Jamal Mashburn, who remembers watching a TV show about celebrities’ vulgarly excessive mansions and having a sudden epiphany: “Maybe I don’t really need a six-bedroom house with just me and my girlfriend living it in it.” The message arrived too late for boxer Evander Holyfield, who built himself a 52,000-square-foot mansion containing two bowling alleys before going broke.
But the sketchy relationship between athletes and money involves more than just over-indulging in strippers. More fundamentally, as Broke points out, it’s a matter of young men who suddenly find themselves with a ton of money that they obtained not with business acumen but for their ability to throw a ball. Even the most sober of them has little idea how to handle it.
Some don’t know how to write checks; others don’t even know how to cash them. Several months after the Oakland A’s signed speedy young outfielder Rickey Henderson for a $10 million bonus, the team’s check still hadn’t cleared the bank. Team officials discovered that he had framed the check and hung it on the wall.