Then, when an athlete ends up broke at the end of his career, we judge him and ask, “Where did all of his money go?” Well, probably to buying various friends and family members a bunch of houses they didn’t need and he couldn’t afford.
This is not an issue that is specific to the black community, but we certainly seem to struggle with it more. From Allen Iverson to Antoine Walker and the many athletes of color featured in the ESPN documentary 30 for 30, black Americans who acquire wealth, particularly in sports or entertainment, struggle to ensure that it lasts past the days of their peak professional glory. According to Sports Illustrated:
* By the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.
* Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60 percent of former NBA players are broke.
The article goes on to explain that friends and family members either offering ill-advised financial advice or requesting handouts are among the biggest culprits behind athletes’ shrinking bank accounts.
Athletes, of course, are not alone. The Jackson family has remained entangled in ongoing legal battles since the death of the family’s star, Michael Jackson. According to a lengthy article in Vanity Fair, the superstar was supporting many of his adult siblings and their children.
Yet despite hearing these stories over and over again and seeing the collateral damage, many in our community continue to assume that there is only one appropriate response when a family member comes with his or her hand out: Yes.
But it’s not. Sometimes you have to say no. Furthermore, if you earned your money, you have a right to say no. Maybe if more of us followed Bryant’s lead in setting financial boundaries with the people we love, the racial wealth gap in our country might not be quite so large.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see Bryant privately resolve his family discord, because it’s sad for all involved. I’d also love to see him give half his wealth to the United Negro College Fund or a comparable charity to help lift our community right alongside him. Who knows? Maybe he already has, or plans to.
But most of all I’d love to see him set a positive example by not becoming yet another sad, broke athlete statistic. Setting boundaries with those closest to him is the easiest way to do that. So I say, good for him.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.