Since his retirement, Patrick Kerney has earned a business degree from Columbia University and honed his financial knowledge to help today’s NFL players.
Inside sports business
Patrick Kerney was 33, with three years remaining on his Seahawks contract, when an ailing shoulder and hips prompted him to retire.
But the former All-Pro defensive end’s financial portfolio was healthy enough that he didn’t have to sacrifice his body further. He’d amassed enough wealth over 11 seasons with Seattle and Atlanta to deal with any lingering medical issues and future expenses for a family that now includes his ESPN anchor wife, Lisa, a former King 5 sports reporter, and their four children.
The six years since Kerney’s retirement have seen him earn a business degree from Columbia University and hone financial knowledge to help today’s NFL players. On Monday, he’ll be in Fort Lauderdale helping host a four-day NFL Personal Finance Camp for 28 current and former players and an additional 15 spouses; who’ll learn everything from tax sheltering to inflationary impact to choosing the right advisor.
“I had some close football friends personally experience the sad side of financial mismanagement,’’ said Kerney, who founded the camp last year during a brief stint as NFL vice-president of player benefits. “So, that was one of my personal inspirations to apply my mind to this problem.’’
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Kerney has since left the NFL to become director of business development with National Fire and Casualty Investments. But the camp, a joint effort between NFL Player Engagement, the University of Miami School of Business Administration and TD Ameritrade, remains close to Kerney’s heart.
He’ll lead daily hotel conference room sessions on how players can better manage assets over their entire lifetimes. It’s too easy, he says, to spend a career living big in Green Bay only to feel financially squeezed upon retiring to Malibu, Calif. with children in private schools.
Educators and industry professionals will conduct 10 additional sessions at the camp. Attendees will include Green Bay Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears safety Antrel Rolle and a lone Seahawks representative, tight end Cooper Helfet.
It shouldn’t surprise that the number of active and former players expected to attend is up from last year’s 20. Daily news about concussions and links to the brain disease CTE should have every player pondering future medical costs and whether they have enough to retire early if need be.
Kerney won’t speculate on precisely what’s driving more players to go.
“I think for as long as the game’s been played, you’ve had the knowledge that it’s a very physical game,’’ Kerney said. “Despite the compensation we receive, we are exchanging parts of our body for that … So, there is a lot of that in the back of your mind: ‘Do I play until my joints are totally cashed? Or do I play until I understand that I’m going to have the future financial freedom that I was hoping to extract from this game?’ I think the group that’s coming to this is probably the latter.’’
A recent spate of early player retirements, ostensibly due to future health concerns, includes Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, 29, whose head-on style resulted in multiple injuries that took their toll. Detroit Lions All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson retired at age 30 in January.
Former Washington Huskies star quarterback Jake Locker, drafted eighth overall by the Tennessee Titans in 2011, retired in March 2015 at age 26 after concussions and other injuries. Locker was among 19 players age 30 and under who retired last year – up from five in 2014.
No one disputes players are leaving early as medical research details football’s risks like never before. But Kerney worries that overstating certain data may prompt players to make hasty financial decisions based on inaccurate information.
A 2009 Sports Illustrated article famously claimed 78 percent of NFL players go bankrupt or broke from divorce and joblessness within three years of retiring. In 2011, the University of North Carolina brain trauma research center estimated the average NFL player life expectancy was now 55.
But a working paper released last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) cast doubt on those figures. It found 16 percent of NFL players go bankrupt within 12 years regardless of the extent of career earnings – a sobering statistic indeed, but less dire than the SI portrayal.
Also, the NBER study puts player life expectancy at an above-average 77½ years. The NFL has actively pushed the more positive figures.
Kerney says players believing the more pessimistic life expectancy numbers preached to teammates about withdrawing their NFL pension starting at age 55, believing they’d be dead soon after anyway. Had they waited until age 65, he says, their benefit would be nearly three times higher.
Informing players of such details is one camp mission. Another is telling them to look beyond friendly smiles when picking a financial adviser.
Kerney says an adviser once promised him a bond portfolio free of management fees.
“It wasn’t until I got my first quarterly statement that I saw that ‘free’ was defined differently by them than it was by me,’’ he said. “So, that relationship ended after the three months.’’
The bottom line, he says, truly should be the bottom line.
“That is what will fund your future,’’ he says. “And hopefully your children’s and even your grandchildren’s future if you do it right.’’