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ESPN 30 for 30 returns: ‘Broke’ looks at athletes who lost all of it

Looking forward to the return of a favorite series tonight. ESPN kicks off a new run of six documentaries with Broke (8 p.m.).

As the title suggests, the film examines athletes who somehow manage to squander the big money. Here’s a clip.

Below is a behind-the-scenes clip of Alabama’s Keith McCants, who I covered in college. He talks about earning $75,000 in one day for a Coke ad. That’s $75,000 in one day.

The film is directed by Billy Corben, who previously did one of my favorites, The U, the tale of the Miami football program. Besides McCants, among the athletes featured are Bernie Kosar, Curt Schilling, Jamal Mashburn, and Andre Rison.

During a teleconference last week, he discussed how he got athletes to open up about the stupidity of blowing millions.

“It’s a really sensitive issue, obviously,” Corben said. “We were very frank and up front with all the potential interview subjects and said this is what it is about. We didn’t want to sandbag them and tell them it was about one thing and then they are sitting down in the chair and going, ‘Why do they keep asking me about money?’ Everybody knew that was what it was going to be about from the beginning, which is why we got a lot of nos along the way.”

Later, he said: “They have a tremendous pride and ego that is fueled by a fan base that reveres them as these indestructible heroes and icons. That feeds their hubris in business, when they are making investments and they think they are going to successful in areas most people tend to fail. . . . They think they are going to be the exception to the rule when they put their name and their brand and their personae behind these projects where they have no business experience or specific knowledge of the particular industry they are getting involved in. They just think the same way they were able to pitch a no-hitter or get a Super Bowl ring, that was going to make the difference in the restaurant business.”

Corben talked more about the film at ESPN.com.

Corben: In June 2009, we interviewed quarterback Bernie Kosar for the ESPN 30 for 30, The U. Anyone who knows Bernie will tell you, he’s as kind and generous a guy you could ever meet. In fact, he was extremely generous with his time that morning; he talked with us for several hours and, afterwards, took pictures and signed autographs for the crew.

A few weeks later, Dan LeBatard broke the news: Following a series of bad investments and a costly divorce, Kosar had filed for bankruptcy. It was a shock. Beyond football, Kosar was renowned for his business savvy and known to have been even more financially successful after his decade-long NFL career than during it.

Personally, it broke my heart. Other than appearing tired at times, there was little or no indication during the hours Bernie spent with us that he was in the midst of this ordeal.

In the early part of the millennium, you’d occasionally hear about a high profile athlete suffering financial difficulties, but Pablo Torre’s article, ‘How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke,’ in the March 2009 Sports Illustrated, cast a spotlight on what seemed to be an emerging epidemic in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown.

These days, it seems there’s a new story every week and we felt these stories were worth exploring. Not everyone was so enthusiastic about it, though.

They say the most uncouth subjects for dinner conversation are politics and religion. I gotta add money to that list. Athletes, a famously proud group, were not particularly anxious to discuss the state of their finances, so getting interviews for this project, not surprisingly, proved to be a challenge. I really admire the people who agreed to speak with us because they sincerely felt like they have something to offer the next generation and hope that others will learn from their experience.

The way “Broke” is structured, it’s not about people, per se, but the problem, told by the people who experience(d) it. It’s essentially a step-by-step guide, How To Lose Millions of Dollars Without Breaking a Sweat.

Conventional wisdom is that professional athletes blow a lot of money on useless crap. Spoiler alert: professional athletes blow a lot of money on useless crap. But that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. I was surprised to discover — and I think others will be, too — how easy it is to go broke.

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