Blind-side risk

Beware of getting ripped off, NFL rookies are told

On off-field perils

July 01, 2008|By RICK MAESE

Javon Walker was robbed and beaten for $3,000 in cash and $100,000 worth of jewelry. Phillip Buchanon was pistol-whipped, stripped naked and robbed in his own home. Intruders stole everything from the TV to the SUV. Dunta Robinson was bound with duct tape and robbed at gunpoint in his home, too. And eight days after Sean Taylor's home was burglarized, his house was again broken into and he was fatally shot by intruders.

The list is much longer and the trend no doubt alarming. A source of envy and a target for crime, football players are at serious risk.

The NFL's new crop of muscles and invincibility is probably hearing the horror stories. The rookies - including the Ravens' 10 picks in the April draft - gathered this week for the league's annual Rookie Symposium.

The stream of headlines might lessen the shock. But here's what they're really learning this week: It's not just strangers breaking into your home. It's not limited to violence inflicted with a weapon. And it's not only that size 6 temptress in a size 2 dress sitting across the bar who poses risk.

In the NFL, the biggest threats rarely sneak up from behind.

"As a player, you're always getting offered opportunities. Even after you retire," says former Raven Michael McCrary. "Anytime people know you have money, they'll present opportunities."

While he was an active player, McCrary befriended a Baltimore businessman. Their friendship continued, and after McCrary left the game, he became an investor for the developer, Edward Giannasca, who had a great project ready to go in New Orleans.

"The mistake I made, I believed in him instead of believing in the deal," McCrary says.

Hurricane Katrina hit, and the deal went south. McCrary was kept in the dark when insurance money was paid out. Last week, a Baltimore circuit judge ordered Giannasca and his group to pay McCrary $33 million in damages.

If only McCrary's cautionary tale were an isolated incident. The truth is, the violent attacks hit the ESPN scroll, but the pocketbook crimes rarely pop up on our news radar. You hear about California-based Atherton-Newport Investments? Probably not. On the surface, it's just another newly bankrupt real estate company. But its investors included more than 20 athletes, Erik Bedard, Vladimir Guerrero and Roy Halladay among them.

Chris Henry, the NFL's director of player development, helped organize this week's Rookie Symposium, which ends tomorrow in Carlsbad, Calif. The four-day mandatory seminar aims to help rookies adjust to the complex world of being a pro athlete. One of the toughest and inevitable realities is the huge financial adjustment.

A couple of months ago, a rookie lineman might have been living off a campus meal plan. Suddenly, he's making six or seven figures a year and being approached with business plans in the grocery store parking lot, when he's out to dinner with his wife or even at a cookout among friends and family.

Everyone has a great moneymaking idea, it seems. Henry says one prominent player told him that he once counted 287 business proposals in a single year.

"Most often, [players] are targeted by people who don't have another means to obtain financing," Henry says. "If somebody's coming to you with a plan, and they've not contacted a bank, there's a reason they're contacting you. You have to be aware of that."

McCrary says now that if he had spent just a bit of time researching - just minutes on Google - he would've learned enough about the developers' background to think twice. At the time, he didn't know better.

Because they're young, the players have little business education or experience handling large chunks of money, and athletes will always be targets, McCrary says.

"You come out as a 21-, 22- or 23-year-old, and you think you know it all, but you really don't have any idea," he says. "The predators out there, they know that."

This week's symposium touches on topics including criminal activities, drugs and finances. Ray Lewis spoke one year, warning rookies to be careful about whom they befriend. The league's rookies will learn about taxes, maintaining personal budgets and surrounding themselves with the right professional advisers.

"Even if they come in and they're responsible and they have an idea of their financial game plan," Henry says, "once you get approached 20 or 30 or 50 times, you start to feel the pressure. You wonder if you're doing something wrong by saying no all the time. And really, it only takes one yes for things to go south."

Life in the NFL: when a 275-pound stack of muscles can try to chew your head in the backfield yet somehow poses less danger than the businessman who's all grins and business cards, the confident friend with a proposal that just can't miss.

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