Monday, August 30, 2010

Black Athletes and All Their Children


by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 

I recently read a very interesting story about how so many black athletes are being hammered by the financial devastation of child support.  Their paychecks are getting zapped to nothing, only to buy Coach purses and hair weaves for the women who’ve had their children.  Perhaps the sex was good enough to justify the misery, but I’ve never had sex that good.

New York Jets running back Antonio Cromartie is one famous case of “I’m Bound to be Broke-itis.”  Cromartie, who is 26-years old, has eight children with six women in five different states.  In fact, the Jets had to front Cromartie $500,000 to settle his paternity situation before he even started playing for the team.  There are quite a few other cases worth mentioning, but I won’t waste time laying out the issues.

What I will lay out is an added perspective that might help brothers realize  the utter stupidity of putting themselves in situations that will keep their pockets empty, kill their ability to support a family down the road and possibly lead to incarceration.  Getting caught under the neck of the merciless child support system is an absolutely horrible feeling.  Children are a beautiful gift from God, and we can all appreciate a pretty woman, but if you let this stuff get the best of you, you’re begging for a life of misery.

I had a child when I was 18-years old.  She was my only biological child.  Since that time, I’ve adopted and mentored other kids, which has been the single greatest achievement of my life.  All the while, I felt the cold grip of the child support system, which doesn’t care if you don’t have the money to pay.  It is also not designed to give a damn about father’s rights or keeping families together.  It was absolute hell dealing with this process and the relationship with my child was significantly strained as a result of that experience.  Personally, I found myself squeaking out the massive amount of  money I was required to pay, and then being given no accountability regarding what the money was used for.   The process was a bitter one, but it was one of my own creation.

I can say that I only made that mistake one time, and from that point on, I was very careful with my personal choices.  So, when I see guys who have more babies mothers and children than they can count, I truly feel bad for the fact that they just don’t realize what they’re getting into.  Athletes are even worse off, because the big money from professional sports eventually comes to an end, and when it does, the child support courts are still going to demand thousands of dollars from you every single month.

The recent death of former Atlanta Hawks star Lorenzen Wright is an interesting case in point.  After leaving the NBA, Wright was unable to find a way to earn enough money to support the lavish lifestyle he’d developed as a professional athlete.  The child support courts didn’t care, ordering Wright to pay $26,000 per month in child and spousal support.   This is a lot of money, even for professional athletes, so you can only imagine the stress of having to pay this much without an athlete’s income.  At the time of Wright’s death, I strongly suspect that his affiliation with drug dealers was partly driven by his significant financial problems.

My advice to young black men and black athletes is pretty simple:

- Have all the fun you want, just learn to do things in moderation.   Getting wasted at the club will only get you arrested, and sleeping with every cute girl you see will only give you unwanted pregnancies, massive child support payments and a long list of venereal diseases.

- Learn how to manage your money.  Black athletes are not the ones getting rich off the NBA and NFL.  Instead, the wealth is going to their educated agents and attorneys, who simply see the athletes as fortunate, faceless cattle being replaced by a new piece of meat every single year.  When you’ve blinged yourself out of control and go bust at the end, your agent will still be balling off of your money.

- Get educated.  If you’re not educated, no amount of wealth can help you escape the fact that others are going to exploit you.  Far too many athletes play into the stereotype of being uneducated, incarcerated black men who fall into the traps of the system.  Education is your only escape from the process that is designed to both enslave and destroy you.

- If you’re not ready to be faithful to your wife, then don’t get married.  This is not a morality judgement, it’s a financial one.  Why pay millions of dollars to get out of a relationship for doing the things you can do freely as a single man?  I’m not condoning one lifestyle over another, but Tiger Woods paid $100 million dollars for sleeping with other women.  Had he been a single man, no one would have cared who he was sleeping with.

Perhaps it’s time to wake up.  Some of us think that it’s ok to have children in any situation without any concern for the future of that child.  But it’s up to those of us who know differently to help educate those who do not.  The worst parts of hip hop culture that promote irresponsible behavior have to be confronted and replaced by something that makes a bit more sense.  At the very least, brothers who don’t want to be broke might want to realize that having a long list of baby’s mamas is the quickest way to the poor house.  When child support comes through and eats your paycheck like Pacman, you’re going to wish you were dead.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.


Anonymous said...

I think anyone who truly works with athletes or entertainers can tell you that it isn't as easy as telling a person what to do or not to do.

Athletes/entertainers simply don't have the impulse control and cognitive ability of academics. If they did, they would've become academics, not athletes/entertainers.

So what can the community do to provide its young, bright stars with the right kind of support and protection? Is that an impossible dream?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, this advice holds true for anyone, not just black athletes.

The child support system is skewed towards the mother regardless of how much time the father wants to invest in the child. My lawyer told me that though the law (in my state) considers husbands and wife's equal in paternity cases, judges always favor the mother and the husband always has the burden of proving the mother is unfit which is very hard to do.

Further, the calcaulation the court uses often far exceeds the costs of raising a child and has no accountability for what the money is actually used for (though even if it did, a simple moving of funds would make it hard to prove, e.g. the child support pays rent, food, gas, car payment, etc. and the other income made goes towards paying for degenerate boyfriends, frivious vacations, jewelry and expensive nights out).

The courts see the father's contribution as money... they care less about time they want to spend which is unfortunate. Further, the father additional expenses when he sees the child since he has to re-fund some of the things he funded in the first place (e.g., buying a bike for the child and things of that nature).

In my case, I've raised children myself and it doesn't cost $1,200 a month to do it unless you simply can't manage your money. The child usually eat's what you eat (and you have to eat), lives where you live (and you have to live somewhere). For every honest person who uses the money for the child's benefit there is a dishonest person who refuses to get a job and just sits at home all day while the child is at school, living off support payments. How is that a fair contribution (you can say time spent after school, but when the husband wants more time and can't get it then it's still a little unfair)?

In this day and age of equal rights the courts should look at the male and the female equally and that's just not how it plays out.