ESPN's critically acclaimed 30 for 30 series kicks off its second season with the premiere of our new documentary Broke, tonight at 8pm ET.
According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. For 78 percent of NFL players, it takes only three years. Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders, saddled with medical problems, and naturally prone to showing off, many pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life. Drawing surprisingly vulnerable confessions from retired stars like Keith McCants, Bernie Kosar and Andre Rison, as well as Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the MLB Players Association, this fascinating documentary digs into the psychology of men whose competitive nature can carry them to victory on the field and ruin off it.
Director Billy Corben (The U, Cocaine Cowboys, Limelight) paints a complex picture of the many forces that drain athletes' bank accounts, placing some of the blame on the culture at large while still holding these giants accountable for their own hubris. A story of the dark side of success, "Broke," is an allegory for the financial woes haunting economies and individuals all over the world.
Kosar is featured in the film along with other names that will be familiar to Bankruptcy Beat readers, like Curt Schilling. The former Boston Red Sox pitcher, whose videogame company filed for bankruptcy protection this summer, recalled cashing his first paycheck and spreading the $20 bills around him on a hotel bed as he watched TV and ordered room service. Schilling, who earned more than $100 million throughout his career, thought he’d “never” be able to spend it all. Now, he said he expects to lose between $40 million and $50 million as a result of his company’s bankruptcy.
“I never believed that you could beat me,” Schilling says in the film. “I lost.”
In Broke, Corben once again displays his astounding narrative skills, weaving a complex tapestry of facts, numbers and anecdotes from dozens of interviews and a mountain of archival footage. Not to be found among the latter: anything from the see-no-evil NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, who can’t imagine why anybody thinks there’s a problem here.
It must have been tough to get people to talk about this topic.
I think first off it’s a matter of access. We wanted to get as many personal stories as we could get. In our documentaries — Cocaine Cowboys, The U — we always try for the first person account. For us, it was a matter of figuring out who’s going to talk to us. There’s hardly a more sensitive subject to try and get people to talk about. Maybe religion or politics. But money is certainly right up there. It was really a matter of trying to find people who would be willing to open up and luckily we got a lot of great stories. I hope that ultimately the documentary starts a discussion about this issue. I think most people just say, ‘You’ve got to be dumb to blow through $100 million,’ when the fact is it’s much easier than you think to end up in financial straits. I hope we get that across in the documentary.
Shocking, sobering and sometimes just sad, Broke is yet another terrific installment in the "30 for 30" franchise, and a promising start for this official second run. It may also be the first documentary in the series with the potential to bring about positive change in sports.