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‘30 for 30’ tells more of the sports story

Updated: November 12, 2012 11:37AM

Former baseball great Rickey Henderson once received a $1 million signing bonus from the Oakland A’s.

Months later, the team accountants noticed the check hadn’t cleared, and a representative of the A’s contacted Henderson.

The explanation: Henderson was so proud of the $1 million bonus he had framed the check and hung it on the wall in his house.

And we wonder why so many pro athletes go broke.

For decades we’ve been hearing the stories of pro athletes who make tens of millions of dollars in their careers, yet wind up broke. The average fan, whether he’s a working class guy or a one percenter, sees these stories and shakes his head. “This idiot got a $12 million signing bonus and he was pulling down $7 million a year, and now he’s broke and crying about it! That would never happen to me. Never!”

Maybe so. Maybe we’re all smarter than Bill Buckner, Jack Clark, Derrick Coleman, Jim Dooley, Rollie Fingers, Ray Guy, Tony Gwynn, Dorothy Hamill, Bernie Kosar, Craig Morton, Gaylord Perry, Sheryl Swoopes, Roscoe Tanner, Johnny Unitas and dozens of others that have declared bankruptcy. But you when watch the ESPN documentary “Broke” and you can see how it can happen.

Yes, greed and hubris are factors. But there’s almost always more to the story.

Take the money and...

So far ESPN has broadcast 49 films in the “30 for 30” series of documentaries. I’ve seen about half, and there hasn’t been a subpar viewing experience yet. Each film is a superbly crafted, in-depth look at a familiar sports story told in a way we hadn’t seen before, whether it’s “Silly Little Game” (the birth of Rotisserie Fantasy Baseball) or “One Night in Vegas” (the events of Sept. 7, 1996, when Tupac Shakur was murdered after attending a Mike Tyson fight).

In “Broke,” former athletes such as Andre Rison, Bernie Kosar, Curt Schilling and Jamal Mashburn tell the sometimes-astounding tales of making and losing enormous sums of money.

One day you’re 20 years old and essentially broke. The next day you’re 20 and a millionaire, with absolutely no financial literacy. Eight years later, you’re 28, retired from the game ­— and you’re wondering what happened to all the money.

Well … Taxes. Bad investments. Divorces. Child support. The family members who kept asking for money.

Yes, these are grown men and they’re responsible for their own lives. Nobody who appears in “Broke” says otherwise. But when you hear about the “financial advisors” that take the money and run; the family members that hit these guys up for money every week; the women that separate them from their money; the short shelf life for athletes (especially football players), etc., etc., it becomes easier to understand how someone can gross $100 million in 10 years and somehow come out broke on the other side.

I know. Most people will never come close to making $10 million in their lifetimes, let alone $100 million. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for these guys. (Neither does the documentary.)

But watching “Broke,” you can understand how it happens.

For every college athlete with even a chance of getting drafted (and every parent), this film should be mandatory viewing.

Buying at the Cell

Last week I asked White Sox fans why they believe home attendance was down yet again this year, despite a team that exceeded expectations and was in first place for much of the season.

From the Rodriguez family of Bridgeport:

“We live blocks away from Sox Park. The reason we don’t go is strictly price. We took our two little ones to the game. It cost $144 for the tickets alone. Fortunately we didn’t give in to every one of our kids’ wants — just a few dogs, fries and ice cream. Two beers for us the whole game. But we still spent over $200 and it could have easily cost us more.

“It’s not that we don’t want to go to games, or that we don’t have the funds somewhere — but with all these other things pulling at our purse strings — home, food, tuition, doctor bills, etc. ­— our White Sox are just too far down the list to make the cut more than once this summer.

“But nearly every game was on our TV during this season. We were excited, proud and hopeful. We were grateful for a good season and ready for next year!”

At least 60 percent of the folks I heard from mentioned the financials, but many other factors were cited. Thanks to the hundreds of fans who weighed in.

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