Every few years, athlete representation appears in scripted television and film. Jerry Maguire, Arli$$, and other notable shows have tried to show the life of working with athlete clients. The latest installment is called Ballers. The show was created by Steve Levinson and began airing Sunday nights on HBO back in June. The series stars Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) as Spencer Strasmore, a football legend turned financial advisor to athletes, and an intense, unathletic, sports loving sidekick played by Rob Corddry.
Ballers is set in Miami and revolves around Strasmore, as he tries to convince his old friends and current Miami Dolphins players to sign up with his firm to let them manage their money. Strasmore has the best of intentions and is trying to get players to follow his sage advice, despite the fact he himself is broke.
The show follows the conventional storylines for this genre: players spending money recklessly, an abundance of beautiful women, rampant drug use, and drama between teammates (Ballers has taken the teammate drama to another level with one player having slept with the mother of a teammate!).
The show is entertaining, but the question is: how realistic is it?
The answer of course is: it depends. Parts of the show are based on regular realities faced by athletes. Strasmore is retired and is shown waking up with aches and pains and is still feeling the effects of concussions. This is a common problem with retired NFL players. Often, the side effects of the injuries are noticed a player is retired and no longer has access to doctors, trainers, and training staffs on a daily basis. Once a player leaves his playing career, the aches and pains of playing become problematic.
Another accurate depiction of working with athletes on the show is that athletes often will try to maintain the lifestyle they had as a player, despite the steep decline in their annual earnings. At the end of the second episode, the camera shows Strasmore go to an ATM to withdraw cash only to see a screen that says “insufficient funds.” This is a hard pill for him to swallow and Johnson does a good job showing the stress, worry, and concealment of these feelings through his acting. In 2009 Sports Illustrated found 78% of NFL players will be in financial distress at some point in their life. However, 100% of these players have the opportunity to seek help before it is too late. Most do nothing until the money is almost gone.
A third aspect of the show that hits close to reality is that athletes face emotional issues after retirement. The attention is gone, and athletes can face problems with self-identity following their careers. On Ballers this is best displayed by the character Charles Greane played by Omar Benson Miller. A retired lineman, Miller gets a job at a Miami area car dealership to appease his wife and keep the appearance of things being great. But he is having trouble adjusting to the “real world.” He struggles with the polar opposite social life of being tied to the football world and being an everyday normal guy.
It is important to remember when watching Ballers, that the show is made for entertainment. It is not a documentary, and it does not reflect the day-to-day lives of most professional athletes. Athletes work upwards of 70 hours a week during the season, and often more than 40 hours per week getting ready for the season. While the perks of the job are well known, athletes that indulge in the perks regularly will not last long.
The show is a fun caricature of some of the crazy things that happen to some athletes. However, it tells the stories of what happens across the league in a year, in each episode set on one team.
For athletes watching Ballers I recommend watching it as a cautionary tale, and for the agents, financial advisors, business managers, lawyers, and aspiring professionals looking to work with athletes, I recommend watching Ballers to issue spot the problems littered throughout each show to develop a game plan for the rare case that their client ends up in a situation shown on the show.
In the first episode, Strasmore voiced the old adage known to those of us in the sports world that cannot be told to young athletes enough “If it drive, flies, floats, or f@#*$ – lease it.” Keep this in mind when dealing with your athlete clients.