A Broke Former NFL Player Who Became a Successful Businessman offers Great Advice
By Jayne Di Vincenzo AIF ®, CEP ®, President
LIONS BRIDGE FINANCIAL ADVISORS
Mario Henry was a broke college kid in the spring of 1994, when he went to the NFL Combine, where would-be professional football players go to be poked and prodded by teams looking for the next wave of young players. Henry, a New Jersey who played at Rutgers University, was so broke at the time that he couldn’t afford a decent pair of sneakers to use at the combine, so he was happy and relieved when his agent said he would buy him a pair.
Henry, a wide receiver, hadn’t played a lot of football compared with others at the combine, but teams were excited to see him at the combine because at 6-foot-2, he had good size, and he had run the 40-yard dash in a blistering time of 4.30 seconds.
On the day of the combine, his agent’s assistant showed up with a pair of size-13 Nikes. Henry’s feet are size 12. That day his 40 time was 4.56, slow for a receiver, and his vertical jump was 38 inches, a few inches less than he usually jumped. Those may seem like small differences, but at the NFL combine they’re huge.
Henry knows if he ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash and if he jumped his usual 41 inches in the vertical jump, he would have been drafted, possibly in one of the first three rounds. As it was, he wasn’t drafted at all. He signed a free agent contract with the New England Patriots – a one-year deal for $107,000, with only his signing bonus ($6,000) guaranteed. He considered that a lot of money, as most 22-year-olds would, but making the team as a free agent means he was given far fewer opportunities to impress the coaches. They hadn’t used a draft pick on Henry, so they were less invested in him. That’s the way it works in the NFL.
Before the final preseason game in 1994, “I was told, ‘We’re going to throw the ball to you three times in this game. If you drop one of them, we’ll cut you.’” He didn’t drop a ball. If he did, it would have cost him $101,000 -- $107,000 minus his signing bonus. That season he didn’t know from one day to the next if he would be released. “Every day I walked into the locker room not knowing if my things would be in my locker,” he said.
After the 1994 season, the Patriots didn’t offer him another contract. He played on practice squads for other NFL teams for parts of two seasons, but after that, his NFL career was over. The broke college kid became the broke former NFL player. How broke?
“I didn’t have the ATM fee to get money – that broke,” he said. “Broke-broke.”
Mario Henry isn’t the stereotypical young man who enters the NFL with no knowledge about money. He was the product of a middle-class household, where his parents taught him to work hard, save his money and maybe he would be fortunate enough to retire with a pension, as his father did. “What my father knew he was going to get,” he said, “was different than my perception of what I thought I was going to get.”
Henry, unfortunately, didn’t stay in the NFL long enough to be eligible for a pension. To receive one, players must play in at least four games in three seasons. He said most players don’t earn a pension. “The NFL is like a caste system,” he said. ”It’s exactly like a caste system. We’re like cattle, moving in and out of the league.”
Henry, who is now a 46-year-old insurance broker and an author, has a lot of great advice for professional athletes and for those who aspire to be professional athletes.
- If a college is willing to give you a free education in exchange for playing a sport, take advantage of it. Get your degree, and while you’re at it, take a business class, so you can better understand how to invest the money you’ll make as a professional athlete and after that. Henry, an African studies major, never earned a degree, and he regrets it.
- Don’t depend on anyone but yourself. He learned this lesson at the NFL combine. If you know you need a good pair of sneakers, find a way to buy the right pair. This advice, of course, applies to everything else.
- Take advantage of opportunities you’re given. If you have to make three catches to make a team, make those catches.
- Learn the business side of any sport you pursue. Henry felt disadvantaged because he didn’t understand the business of the NFL when he was a player.
- Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses often have a lot more money than you, and if you try to buy what they have, you may run out of the money. He said that helps explain why he ended up with no money by the time his NFL career was over.
- Understand what other sources of income may be there for the taking. For example, he applied for and received unemployment benefits during the off season.
- Just because you make $2 million a year, that doesn’t make you a multi-millionaire. A lot of that goes to taxes, agents fees and living expenses, to name three. “If you make $2 million or $3 million a year, that doesn’t mean you have that much money.”
- Be smart with your money. “I saw guys blow $20,000 in one night in a strip club.” Henry never did anything like that, but in 1995, he received a royalty check for $3,500 because his likeness was used in a video game. “It was from the NFLPA (the NFL Players Association, a union that represents the players), but I thought it was a mistake,” he said, “so I thought, ‘I better spend this right away,’ and I did.”
- If a family member or friend wants to borrow money from you, assume you’ll never be repaid. Athletes who grow up poor may be more likely to be asked for loans and gifts. Those who don’t learn how to say no will run out of money -- fast.
- Make sure your agent doesn’t double as your financial advisor, and don’t even hire a financial advisor who your agent recommends. He also recommends hiring a certified public accountant. “You need a watchdog for your money.”
- When you interview a financial advisor, come prepared to ask lots of tough questions, and hire an advisor who can answer all of them and who has an excellent reputation.
- Make sure your financial advisor develops a plan that ensures life-long income.
- Invest in a franchise and/or an investment property for every season you play professional sports. Henry wrote a book called How to Hire your House, which teaches homeowners that their biggest asset, their house, “can pay you rather than you pay it.” He said he has filed a provisional patent application because he is the first to develop the strategies he writes about in his book.
“Athletes are doomed (to make financial mistakes),” Henry said, “because we’re young when we get this money, and we feel immortal – we’re the strongest, the fastest – and we think the money will always be there. That’s not true.”
Jayne enjoys supporting most all sports including football, basketball, field hockey, soccer, golf, baseball….and helping to educate young athletes and their families, coaches, trainers and agents from high school, college to semi-pro and professional players on all matters financial to help protect and build wealth for them and their families.
Jayne earned her B.A. in Business at North Carolina State University and has 20-years of experience in banking and financial services. She holds a 24 General Securities Principal, 53 Municipal Principal Registration, Series 7, 63, 65, 31 registrations & life and health insurance licenses with LPL Financial.
Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, A Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), member FINRA/SIPC. Lions Bridge Financial Advisors, 2110 William Styron Square, Newport News, VA 23606 (757)599-9111 www.LionsBridgeFA.com Jayne@LionsBridgeFA.com.