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Q&A: Former Patriots cornerback Eugene Profit runs for the money

Managing instant wealth requires education and restraint

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The average annual salary of an NFL player is a cool $1.9 million, according to Bloomberg. With the average career of a pro football player lasting just 3.5 short years due to injuries and fierce competition, most in the NFL make a lot of money in a short amount of time.

That sudden burst of financial fame, not to mention media attention, is one reason experts say as much as 20 percent of professional football players read from a playbook scripted with poor financial decisions and end up fumbling their credit scores and finances.

Eugene Profit, a five-year veteran of the NFL, beat those odds, and more than once. One of five children raised by a single mother in the rough-and-tumble neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Profit did not drop out of high school like many of his peers. After a successful career as a high school athlete, he chose an education over the limelight and graduated with a degree in economics from Yale University, where he played football and track.

Eugene Profit, ex-NFL player turned investment adviser
Eugene Profit, founder, Profit Asset Management

Eugene Profit, founder, Profit Asset Management

With salaries in the millions over a short-term career span, as many as one in five football players end up in financial ruin. Former Patriots cornerback and Yale graduate, Profit beat those odds after an injury forced him into retirement.

When the NFL came calling, Profit answered. He spent three seasons with the New England Patriots and two with the Washington Redskins, playing cornerback and on special teams, before a hamstring injury forced him to retire in 1991. Post-retirement, instead of spiraling into financial ruin like many other players, Profit put his degree and business sense to good use and founded Profit Asset Management, an investment firm in Silver Spring, Md., that manages money for a wide range of institutional clients, including the New York City Employees Retirement System, the San Francisco City & County Employee Retirement System, and the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. Today, the firm boasts $2 billion in assets under management and an expansive client list.

"We basically run look-alike portfolios with very small tweaks around individual client guidelines," he says. "We may have one client who may not want to back something, or they might want restrictions on other things, and we do that. But that's how we assure our clients that we're getting them pretty similar returns."

Profit has some sage advice for football players and armchair quarterbacks, too. So CreditCards.com sat down with him to score some winning strategies for financial success.

CreditCards.com: You graduated from Yale and, after pro football, you sidestepped the financial destruction that as many as one in five football players experience. What motivated you to overcome the odds?

Eugene Profit: I knew nothing about Yale until my junior year of high school so that was never a dream or goal. But when I was younger, I had a lot of interest in reading and my mother took me to the library a lot. We could afford the books there -- they were free. And a lot of what I read was biographies of athletes. That was a way to imagine what other people accomplished as well as the opportunities that may exist for me. Reading allowed me to dream. My mother also always stressed education and made education a priority. She sacrificed a great deal for her family.  

CreditCards.com: A passion for literacy was instilled in you as a child. And as a financial adviser, you champion financial literacy. What is your definition of financial literacy?

Profit: Financial literacy is having a basic understanding of where you are you in your financial life, how to achieve your financial goals and understanding how your money is invested. You don't have to understand stocks and the bond market. But you should understand your own investments to avoid being blindsided by any surprises and to be a partner in your financial planning so you can make proper decisions about your financial life.

CreditCards.com: We often hear about professional athletes making poor financial decisions. Why do you think athletes squander their wealth?

Profit: It's a little of a lot of things. In many cases, you're talking about young kids who could be 18 or 19, up to 25 years old, who are trusted with a lot of immediate wealth. They don't have the experience to deal with the fame and money suddenly thrust upon them.

Many times players give in to the urge to buy bling, houses, cars, etc., because they don't have the knowledge of how to manage today's wealth so it supports you tomorrow.

One issue that's somewhat unique to athletes is if you make it to the professional level, you've probably spent a lot of time being the "big man on campus" or enjoying success. That feeling of being so successful on the field spills over to your early financial life. A player's confidence level is high because he realized his professional dreams, so it's almost natural to think you can do anything, including taking financial risks. You don't realize that there are people who are world-class finance professionals and you're a rookie in that world.

CreditCards.com: What are some common financial foibles of pro football players?

Profit: It's hard to temper dreams and desires. So if they want a big house, car, bling and so on, many just buy it without thinking about tomorrow. They don't realize financial ruin can happen to them; it doesn't only happen to the other guy.

Players often take too much risk, much as many consumers do. They buy a large house and take a large mortgage because their current income allows for that payment. But when the contract stops and the house is not paid off, the downward spiral quickly starts.

Many younger players don't know whose financial advice to listen to. They'll invest in startup businesses with friends or family or invest in buildings because someone said that's a good idea. But they don't realize there's a high risk of that money not coming back.

CreditCards.com: What kind of financial advice did you get as a rookie compared to what advice players get now?

Profit: In my day, we didn't get much advice or information at all. But over the years, opening the door to financial literacy has become much more formal among the league and players' unions. In my day, we didn't have clear paths to learning how to wisely use the sudden wealth. We also didn't see the huge contracts players do today.

Although they can't dispense financial advice, now the league and players' unions are trying to give the players some initial information and an overview of how to manage money and make smart decisions. They have workshops and facilities for players to learn a little about perils and pitfalls of finance. Players have the ability to go to sessions on financial matter in rookie camps.

CreditCards.com: In your opinion, what's the key to a successful relationship between a consumer and a financial adviser?

Profit: Communication is very important. The most important thing is knowing who is making the investment decisions. Who is quarterbacking your portfolio? Is it the manager of the fund, a team of people?

You should understand what the adviser's financial advice is and that it's your right and duty to ask any questions in any language in order to fully understand everything that is being suggested or done on your behalf. A financial adviser needs to be able to explain where, why and what your expectations should be for investing.

Respect is also important. You shouldn't be made to feel that you're not a big-enough client. People have a fear that their portfolio is too small or not important to their financial adviser. If that's the case, you should have a different adviser. Even if you're investing $50 a month, you should get the same professional management as investors investing hundreds of millions of dollars every month.

See related: 6 steps to handle a sudden financial windfall

Published: February 7, 2012


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