Cowboys Help Rookies Adjust to Perils of Instant Wealth

Cowboys try to help young players handle newfound wealth (Dallas Morning News)

The bright, shiny Cougar would tease Calvin Hill. Every day he would pass a New Haven, Conn., dealership on his way to practice while at Yale and wish he could buy the car of his dreams. When the Cowboys took Hill with their first pick in the 1969 draft, he received a $50,000 signing bonus. His father made just $5,000 a year. “My initial thought was I could buy that Cougar,” said Hill, who serves as a consultant with the Cowboys. “It was exhilarating, but then you realize you have no idea how to handle money. I never had that kind of money. We never sat around the table talking about money.” Thirty-five years later, those same problems exist for Cowboys rookies. Most find themselves with money and an opportunity to buy whatever they want for the first time in their lives.

The Cowboys have held four financial seminars for their rookies this season. The team’s eight drafted rookies went through an NFL-run symposium before training camp dealing with their newfound fame and wealth. “You learn a lot,” said cornerback Nate Jones, who earned a finance degree at Rutgers. “It’s not a meeting to go to sleep in. It’s not like it’s something we don’t need to know, because we do.” The speakers, including former team comptroller Robert Nunez, talked to the players about financial issues. Players learned about 401(k)s and taxes and investments. Former players have spoken to the team about mistakes they made or how they were able to profit. Most agents set up players with financial planners to ease the pressure. Sometimes that is not enough. “A lot of people are surprised athletes can’t handle it,” Hill said. “I’m surprised more guys don’t fail because it’s such a dramatic switch. There’s no transition. I’ve tried to tell our guys: Last year they had a hard time getting dates, now they’re Denzel Washington.”

The minimum rookie salary is $230,000, roughly $13,500 a week over 17 weeks. Practice squad players make about $4,350 a week for 17 weeks. During training camp rookies were paid $700 a week. They have the option of being paid over 52 weeks, but it has to be written into their contracts.

While the idea that being incredibly wealthy and attractive to women is a problem is easy to laugh at, programs like this are clearly needed. The combination of youthful recklessness and immaturity, the arrogance of the pampered athlete, and big wads of cash is a volatile one indeed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tig says:

    There was a lot of commentary durin’ the Michael Irvin criminal matter that most of the real problem had more to do with MI comin’ from a large large family (19 kids) and havin’ more money than he knew what to do with dropped right into his lap. People with a lot of money attract a lot of people wantin’ a part of it, naive people with a lot of money attract a lot of unscrupulous friends, in a hurry. That sometimes leads to trouble. Jes’ ask Michael.

  2. Mark says:

    Yes it may be a problem, but I for one would love the opportunity to have such a problem!

  3. Attila Girl says:

    It’s also very easy for these kids to forget–or just not know–that they won’t always be making that kind of money. If they transition to another lucrative career (e.g., acting), there will continue to be a healthy income, but as I understand it athletes can’t perform at a high level for too many years, so they need to save aggressively while they are making the long green. Which is against human nature for the young.

  4. Eric says:

    A couple of notes: First, Calvin Hill (and his son Grant) is a class act all the way. (And our neighbor, James.) These guys couldn’t have a better role model. He’s also one of the highest-ranking African-American sports executives out there.

    Second, I think the NBA does something similar, but I have a feeling that NFL players tend to be more receptive- there’s more of a recognition that their playing days are numbered, and that if they don’t tend to their money as they earn it, it won’t be there for them after their playing career. (I think that Baseball players, having come up through the minor leagues, are the least likely to blow their money and wind up in financial trouble.