This week, news broke that Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez and several other prominent athletes had been victims of a sketchy financial adviser who embezzled the athletes' money. Financial adviser Ash Narayan was able to convince Sanchez and 74 other clients that he could be trusted with their earnings. After all, Narayan was a CPA, or so he said (he isn't), and his clients were inclined to trust him in part because "he represented himself as a devout Christian involved in charitable causes." Sanchez and Narayan even attended the same church.
Now we've seen too many high-level athletes make mistakes with their money, whether it be misspending it or entrusting it to the wrong people. But this time, the story is a little different, as the man who embezzled an estimated $33 million in all was a NFLPA-approved financial adviser. In this case, by doing the right thing and seeking out a league-trusted adviser to guard the majority of his lifetime income, Sanchez was actually doing the wrong thing.
With Sanchez enabling Narayan to have access to accounts that his game checks were directly deposited into, the so-called adviser was able to do just about anything he pleased with the money. Instead of properly managing the funds like a financial adviser should, Narayan instead funneled a large amount of the athletes' monies into a sketchy ticket company in which he was a partner. Ticket Reserve, a ticket-buying operation whose goal was to "monetize anticipation," had lost about $3 million over four years. What the business plan of Ticket Reserve was Is fuzzy, but it is clear that they obviously weren't very good at doing whatever they did. Said CEO Richard Harmon in an email to Narayan, "To be sure, our revenue sucks. Our balance sheet is a disaster." But for all of the faults they had in running a viable business, the group was certainly great at embezzling funds. 90 percent of the company's investing capital was "raised" by Narayan and his all-star clients, some of who had agreed to invest in the company, but nowhere near to the extent that Narayan had withdrew from their accounts. Sanchez invested $100,000 in Ticket Reserve, but no more, in what he called a "risky investment." But instead of the agreed amount, $7 million was deducted from the account of Jake Peavy, MLB pitcher and another client of Narayan. Similarly, former MLB pitcher Roy Oswalt signed on for a $300,000 investment, but Ticket Reserve got over $7 million directly from his account.
For his efforts, Narayan got $1.8 million as a "finder's fee". But he also got a SEC lawsuit. Oswalt discovered the financial shenanigans after combing over his statements in February. Shortly after, Narayan was fired from his firm, and a SEC investigation followed.
So what allowed Narayan to exploit these players and earn their trust? While his faith and so-called values certainly played a part, it was likely his affiliation and certification thru the NFLPA that made the difference. With a seal of approval from the NFLPA as a financial adviser, players had good reason to trust Narayan.
Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving, as is the case here. Multiple agents and players have essentially called the program a joke, and it seems to be a moneymaking scheme for the union. The integrity of the program seems very questionable when you consider that Narayan was still listed as an approved adviser on the NFLPA database a week ago, despite the fact that the SEC case was filed in late May. Jeff Rubin and Hodge Brahmbhatt, both on the hook for scamming athletes out of over $100 million, were also NFLPA-approved at some point in time.
To receive the distinction, applicants must simply have a bachelor's degree, eight years of experience as a CPA, attorney, or FINRA licensee. They also must have at least $4 million in insurance coverage and no pending litigation or past fraud convictions. It's these loose requirements that let Rubin, a Exercise and Sports Science major with no formal finance experience, gain certification.
The NFLPA also requires $2,500 for approved status, and according to one former player, that's really all it takes to get in.
"My financial adviser told me a couple years ago that he was no longer taking the training to be NFLPA certified because they were using it as a moneymaking scheme (charging like a couple grand to get certified, no matter if you actually were capable or not)."
- Chris Kluwe, former punter
Multiple agents, speaking anonymously to the National Football Post, have also echoed the sentiments of Kluwe and essentially everyone but the players' union themselves.
"The union does it for (public relations) sake, so that they can say they’re at least doing something. They don’t have the staff to really check out what’s going on and they’re not following up with who any of these people are."
"The program is ridiculous. Think about it, based on what the NFLPA is doing, I couldn’t recommend Warren Buffett,"
What's even more disturbing is how the NFLPA is pushing their poor program on both players and agents. Multiple internal memos disseminated by the NFLPA to agents state that they should only be steering their players to those advisers approved by the association. It's led to a really awkward juxtaposition wherein players are being told by agents to not trust their own union, which is supposed to have the players' best interest in mind. It almost seems like players now need advisers to pick financial advisers.
The stigma surrounding the program has gotten so bad that one agent told his own financial adviser to stay clear of registering with the NFLPA.
"I told him it wasn’t worth the money he would spend. It’s not worth being lumped in with guys who have ripped off players,"
The dysfunction of the program is so bad that one prominent NFLPA source suggested that ending the program would be a good move. Former Ravens center and ex-player representative for the NFLPA Matt Birk also said the same.
"It seems to me that this whole system is bad. It's not good for the players. It's not good for the (union). So why the heck are we doing it? Either upgrade the program and have certification where you're keeping track of what the financial people are doing or do away with the program,"
The unfortunate predicament of Mark Sanchez is just the latest in a chain of missteps by the players' union, who have proven that they are one of the worst unions in professional sports. Whether it's the fact players are essentially independent contractors thanks to low guaranteed contracts and clauses that can make huge sums of money disappear in an instant if a player gets hurt, or the rise in injuries partially thanks to reduced offseason practices as ordered by the recent CBA, or the insane amount of power the commissioner was granted in that same document, or the lack of response to serious health issues that players face, it's not hard to believe that the NFL has absolutely screwed over the very people it protects. This is especially sobering when you consider that American football is the juggernaut of all sports. The NFL brings in more money than any other league in the world, yet their players are far from first in terms of how they're treated.
Perhaps the players should take a page from other sports, and slowly phase themselves out from the ranks of the NFLPA to be replaced by lawyers and people with experience in unions. Right now the Executive Committee of the NFLPA features 10 NFL players, past and present. Below them are player representatives from each team. Finally, heading the whole operation is Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, a former high-ranking federal attorney, but more importantly, he's the only non-player in the leadership of the NFLPA. This is definitely a problem, because while the players know what they want, attorneys know how to get them what they want. This is the approach that baseball's MLBPA has taken, and they've flexed their muscles many a time as one of the most powerful unions on earth.
But what do I know? I'm just an amateur sportswriter dishing out hot takes. But there is one thing I can say with certainty about the NFLPA. Don't trust them with your money.