The New York Times recently featured an innovative MBA program at George Washington University. Not only was the course of study designed to enhance the professional business skills of its participants, it hoped to teach personal business and economics to people vulnerable to personal financial failure.
Who were they? Astute cultural analysts? Children of single-parent households? Convicted felons? People with learning disabilities? No, one of the groups targeted by GWU was retired professional athletes, especially those who played in the NFL. GWU understands something that numerous political ideologues do not: personal financial management skills must be acquired if personal or business wealth is to be sustained. In other words: “It’s one thing to make money, but it takes skill and training keep it.”
Why would the academics target athletes and other professionals with volatile incomes? The answer is simple - moving from boom to bust has landed scores of athletes and entertainers in the “poor house.” After watching this year’s Super Bowl, it’s especially hard for most Americans to say the word poverty in the same breath as professional football or award winning entertainment. Nonetheless the tension between potential, passion, and poverty is illustrative of America’s current national financial dilemma. The US is still the richest nation in the world, but we are in danger of squandering our blessed position of influence and our prosperity.
This fall both parties will advance their best approaches to producing jobs, helping the poor, and jump starting our faltering economy. Conservatives must translate their positions into practical language. We need to give the nation a fresh vision and a strategic game plan that will create an economic climate that is conducive to economic opportunity, but simultaneously we also need to encourage state and federal programs that help people learn self-control, maturity, and how to steward the money they have.
Please let me continue with the professional sports analogy for a few moments. Despite their exceptional cash flow; just two years after retirement, almost 80 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or facing serious financial problems. There are numerous examples we could dredge up in the NFL. Terrell Owens is the most recent one that comes to mind. The phenomenally-talented, wide receiver admitted to GQ this month that he is completely broke - despite making over 80 million dollars during his career. A secondary problem for people in this realm of life is short term thinking. They often do not complete their bachelor’s degrees, despite being awarded full scholarships to college. And when the paychecks stop coming, they don’t know what to do.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.