When Cuba Gooding Jr. screams “Show me the money!” at Tom Cruise in the movie “Jerry Maguire,” he is playing a fictional NFL wide receiver who’s worried about his finances. He’s got a family to support, and he knows his superstardom is only going to last five, maybe ten years.
It’s a fictional story, but it’s pretty close to the realities of life for professional athletes. We might scoff when we hear that another athlete has filed for bankruptcy. But the sad fact is that a majority of NFL and NBA players are drafted in their late teens or early twenties, and they’re often ill-equipped to handle their skyrocketing finances. What’s more, sudden millionaires tend to attract vultures. And when their careers end, they’re often left with nothing but debt.
Tywanna Smith was 14 when Gooding won the Oscar for that role. She’d been playing basketball for years, and was starting to realize she could be a college scholarship contender. Her cousin, Marcus Brown, had just been drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers that year. Smith knew more about pro sports than most kids her age.
Playing as a starter for the University of Mississippi for four years, Smith was just as committed to her business and marketing studies as she was to hoops. So committed, in fact, that she earned several academic achievement awards, a BBA, and an MBA before heading to Europe to play professionally.
When she came back, Smith worked as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch and Allstate for seven years, and as Director of Marketing for Montgomery Sports Group for two years. Her head was still in the game – but now from a different standpoint. She knew the stakes involved in pro-sports, and it broke her heart to see young athletes repeatedly left with nothing after making bad decisions during their short careers.
The Athlete’s Nexus was the result. Smith started the company with one goal in mind: To help young athletes navigate the shark-infested waters around their high salaries so that they could leave their sports careers not only on solid financial ground, but already embarked on successful lifetime careers. She’s even published a book on the subject, targeted at rookies but applicable to any pro athlete: Surviving the Lights: A Professional Athlete’s Playbook to Avoiding the Curse.