Brandon Copeland, Michael Thomas, Harrison Barnes and Kevin Durant are among those leading this effort.
The persistent racial wealth gap is pushing pro athletes to champion financial literacy for Black kids and teens. They are doing everything from going into schools and colleges to investing in and sponsoring financial literacy programs and apps.
NFL players such as New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Copeland and Houston Texans safety Michael Thomas and NBA players, including Harrison Barnes, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, are among the leaders in this effort.
Copeland, or Professor Cope, as he is called by his students, teaches personal finance to students at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and has a financial literacy website, Life101.io. He also brings high school students to locations where he’s speaking to learn about personal finance.
“I literally have videos on my phone of three African American kids from Philly who had never heard about stocks before passionately debating about which stock was going to be better, Apple, Nike or Uber,” Copeland said. “Now, they’re on the bus, still having this conversation. Now they go home, and they’re still thinking about buying Nike stock, as opposed to buying Nike shoes. And so that is how we create a ripple effect.”
Barnes, Paul, Durant and former New York Yankees All-Star pitcher CC Sabathia are among those who invested in Goalsetter, a financial literacy app for kids of all ages.
“Financial literacy is a personal passion,” said Barnes, “and it is an extremely important life skill that is necessary to teach our youth how to be smarter, not only with spending but with savings. Aimed at helping to close the wealth gap, through this partnership we are investing in Black futures by creating access to essential financial conversations at an early age, increasing the likelihood of achieving a college education and setting the next generation up for success.”
Added Paul, “This partnership is about learning from our history to create a strong future that prepares the next generation of Black and brown kids to be savers and investors. Financial education is a necessary and critical component of creating an equal America.”
The Goalsetter app uses quizzes, games, memes, hip-hop stars and social media influencers to teach kids about saving, investing and compound interest. Kids can open a savings account, make regular deposits and set savings goals for anything from buying a bicycle to college tuition. Parents can also participate and learn from the app.
“A lot of athletes are investing,” said Tanya Van Court, Goalsetter founder and CEO. “They are money savvy and are role models for kids on and off the court. Their investment in Goalsetter means so much more than just a check. It is an investment in Black-owned business, an investment in the future financial education of Black kids and families and an investment in a more equal future. It means a lot.”
She said their investments also help debunk stereotypes about Black athletes mismanaging their money and going bankrupt. Van Court said we put a spotlight on athletes when they have financial problems, but the lack of financial knowledge is not endemic to one person, group or socioeconomic class.
“Ninety-five percent of wealthy families lose their wealth by third generation,” Van Court said. “That tells us we don’t teach kids about money. Forty percent of Americans can’t pull together $400 in case of emergency. And 70% of African Americans will have a kid that falls out of the middle class.”
Barnes announced on Twitter that he was starting Goalsetter savings accounts with $40 for each of 500 kids at Build Black in Sacramento, California, and Thomas L. Marsalis Elementary School in Dallas. “Black Americans are projected to have a negative net worth by 2053,” he said. “But we believe we can reverse course with a Goalsetter savings account for every kid in America.”
“Who’s got next?” he tweeted.
Retired NBA player Greg Oden has also been lecturing to young players and high school students for years. His interest was piqued when he entered the NBA and was presented with investments that he never knew existed.
“I am not a professional financial person,” Oden said. “I do not have a degree in finance. But I am a guy who had a lot of money come at me at a young age. So, one of the things I tell them is to make sure you’re involved. When I was 18, 19, I didn’t do my due diligence. I just said, ‘Mom, you handle it. Financial advisers, you got it. You guys seem nice. I trust you. You go ahead. Yes, as long as I’m not losing money, I’m good.’
“When I was done playing, because I was so up and down in my career, I started looking at my finances a little bit more, and I saw I’m spending, I’m not getting any income,” Oden said. “That’s not a good feeling, especially knowing everything that we do about athletes going broke three to five years after they’re done playing filing for bankruptcy.
“I had to do something to change my life around and I’m doing that now,” he said. “So, to help some young people who probably are going to go through the same things I went through, and some of the things I’m going through now, I can talk about that.”
Brandon Miller, goalie for the Charlotte Independence in the USL Championship, is teaching high school kids through the Young Investors Society. “I was looking for ways to make a greater impact in my area, especially underserved communities,” he said. His goal was to keep the kids from making the same money mistakes he was making in his mid-20s.
“I was thinking of how we can change the trajectory for generations,” he said. “My goal is [to] impact lower-income communities and communities of color. How can we reach them and get them to grow their own money and grow the community wealth?”
Thomas, who was nominated for this year’s Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for championing social justice and financial literacy for kids, said he realized how little he knew about finance when he got his first rookie free-agent contract, even though he attended Stanford University.
“I was introduced to things like how to build credit, how to get a lease,” he said. “Well, I didn’t have a credit report. I didn’t have any working experience or know-how to how to balance my checkbook and to start saving. This was really important, especially in my unique situation where you’re in the NFL and you might accumulate a lot of money in a short period of time. So, it was really a real-life experience like me. I went to a school like Stanford, but I learned this for the first time on my own.
“I know that there are a lot of other people experiencing this, but even more so, the youth,” said Thomas, who also has an MBA degree. He made financial literacy an integral part of his football camp for kids. “Anytime I have the resources, anytime I have to knowledge, I want to always make sure I give it back to my community.”
Retired Pro Bowl defensive end Adewale Ogunleye says financial literacy should be mandatory through all levels of education. He said when he entered the NFL, he had financial advisers, but he was too proud to tell them he didn’t understand what they were talking about.
“I would just shake my head a lot and act like I knew what they were saying, but I didn’t know what a basis point was, even though I had millions in the bank,” he said. “And at that moment I realized this is how I’ve been risking my hard-earned money. I didn’t even understand the basic fundamentals of money. So that’s what made me go back to school and get my MBA.”
Today, Ogunleye is head of sports and entertainment at UBS, where he said he hopes to educate today’s athletes and entertainers and break down the stigma attached to professional athletes, making poor financial decisions and going broke within a few years after retiring from sports. He says that financial literacy should be mandatory through all levels of education. UBS has announced that it will sponsor 2,000 children selected by the Goalsetter Foundation and deposit $40 into a new savings account for each one, plus funding for access to the financial literacy curriculum for five years.
Ogunleye says parents need to begin conversations about money with their children early. “I’m blessed enough that my kids, they’re 4 and 5, already have their own bank accounts. And in the span of a lifetime, I’ve been able to change the fortunes of my family’s trajectory.”
Thomas said Black parents aren’t having the frank conversations with their kids about the financial lessons they learned, almost as if it were taboo. “They should say, ‘I probably should have started saving a lot sooner than I did so I would have had money for a rainy day or invest or start a business.’ Or, ‘I ran up credit cards early, not really understanding, interest, and having to pay those things back, and it hurt me. It hurt my credit score. I wasn’t able to get the house that I wanted or a car I wanted until [I] repaired my credit.’
“We need those real conversations first,” he said. “It’s so beneficial in a household. And that’s something parents have to admit to themselves and be comfortable sharing. Not everybody is ready to admit their mistakes. But having those conversations is very beneficial because they’ll teach our kids.”