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In 2009, the Detroit Tigers picked him as one of the top players at the annual draft. Now, 13 years later, Jacob Turner (31) finds his home in an office rather than a baseball field, but he’s not far away from the glamour surrounding the stars of sport. He helps athletes who come to sudden wealth at a very young age make good use of their money and find purpose for the years after their sports career is over. “When I signed and came to a large amount of money, I decided I needed to figure out how to manage it, who I should have on my team. Over time, it went from ‘I want and need to figure this out’ to ‘I can help other people figure this out’,” he says in an interview with Flashscore News.
You were drafted ninth overall, straight from high school, and signed a contract which guaranteed you 5.5 million dollars. What does that do with an 18 year old?
“I went from a couple hundred dollars in my bank account to millions of dollars, suddenly. It’s certainly unique. For an 18-year-old, the biggest challenge is navigating through what you don’t know. You’re trying to build a team around you and try to understand how to reward yourself for the work you put in but at the same time making sure you're not blowing the money away.”
Do you need to fight imposter syndrome at the time?
“Absolutely. I remember when I first signed, I went to something called the Instructional League. They take the newly drafted guys and take them to a training complex. I remember pitching against guys who were top college athletes and they got drafted after me, while I went to a pretty small high school in St. Louis, Missouri. We didn’t have great baseball, so the competition I was playing against was pretty low. Now I was going into professional sports and was playing against these great college guys… To your point, I was thinking: Am I as good as the team thinks I am? But you realize pretty quickly what abilities you have and you know the teams are smart when making decisions.”
What would you do with the money now, looking back? What did you do wrong then?
"Fortunately, there weren't a ton of things that I did wrong. If I could go back, I would honestly loosen the strings a bit more. I had a little trouble actually spending the money, because I was so focused on not going broke. Lot of the conversations I have with my clients now would relate to my situation then: You worked really hard for this money, let’s make sure we find ways you can use them to enjoy what you like. It’s okay to spend, money is a tool.”
Were you always interested in finance, or is it something that came to you during your playing career?
“I would say I was always interested in how the world works - how people make money, how businesses are created. When I signed and came to this amount of money, I decided I needed to figure out how to manage it, who I should have on my team. Throughout my journey in professional baseball, I really fell in love with personal finance and helping successful people manage what their success looks like. It went from ‘I want and need to figure this out’ to ‘I can help other people figure this out’.”
Sports are spectacle, to a certain degree. Does a ‘good story’ add more value to an athlete as far as his financial opportunities go? A player who’s of the same quality but perhaps a less interesting character might be paid less.
“Definitely, brands are always looking for a good story. I think a lot of athletes have them, but it also depends on how they want to tell them. I know a lot of baseball players who don’t really want to talk about what happens outside of the field. That’s more of a personality trait. They might be great performers, but maybe don’t get that many opportunities outside of their sport.”
What are the biggest mistakes young athletes make after they sign their first pro contracts?
“They're not asking enough questions. They’re coming into a situation where they’re not the experts. You need to ask questions, surround yourself with the right people, and truly humble yourself. You don’t know what you don’t know.”
What is the most common reason why athletes turn to you for help with finances?
“A lot of it is very specific, a lot of unique things come with an athlete’s life cycle. Whether it’s the way of investing, framing how we think about money… Because their journey is going to be very different from somebody in a corporate job working for 35 years and then retiring. For us it’s about having the personal experience and being able to speak the same language.”
When talking about athletes and money, I always remember Shaq - he talked about blowing the entirety of his first million dollar check away in one day, spending 70k in one haul at Walmart after being traded… Yet now, he’s a successful businessman and entrepreneur. How does a person go from one to the other so well?
“Shaquile O’Neill is a great example of both ends of the spectrum - from spending his entire first check and not knowing anything about the money to having more than 20 business ventures. He made a good decision that a lot of athletes should make, and he found a good team of finance people around him to give him good advice. Sometimes you learn by making mistakes, but if you have the right team around you, those mistakes don’t have to compound and make a bigger mess in the long run.”
Do you think there’s a lack of understanding of what to do after the sports career is over? There’s players who retire at 35 and think to themselves: What now? This is all I know.
“You have to understand that athletes who retire at 30, 40 years old have put two decades of focus into their sport. Day in, day out, thinking about how to get better at what I’m doing. And that process of transitioning away from this can be very hard. Something athletes should do a better job at - and something I always encourage - is finding something you can be good at after your career, while that career is still going on. Of course you focus on your sport, on your main thing, but as an athlete, you have open doors and conversations that can happen that might give you a way to interesting opportunities. Maybe you’re interested in real estate, investment banking, you can always find someone to talk to about that. Just understand there is life outside of sport."
What do you think are the best investments for young athletes?
“I don’t think it’s smart to think about individual investment opportunities, rather to figure out how to frame your long term strategy. The biggest blessing for athletes is that they come to money at a very young age. But there is a flipside to it - if you come to this money at 18, 21 years old, your life is going to change a lot in the next ten years. And there also needs to be an element of protection - you don’t know where you are going to be in the next couple of years.”
Many people find new investment opportunities in crypto currencies and ‘fan tokens’. What is your opinion on that?
“There’s a big difference between investing and speculating. Investing is something that you know is going to grow over a course of time - the stock market has had its ups and downs, but over a hundred years we have seen it grow a healthy amount. These new speculative investments seem sexy, modern, but you don’t know what will happen to them. They can be a homerun, but they can also be a total strikeout. We have to be investing for the long term, and if we want to speculate a little bit, we need to know how much money we can allocate to that.
So sort of investing money you’re almost okay to lose?
“Yeah, you have to realize these kinds of investments can go to a hundred just as well as they can go to a zero. And you have to be okay with that.”
Is there a sports star you would give as a role model for young athletes, somebody who has had a very ‘healthy’ relationship with money in their career?
“I don’t think I can say just one name, there’s thankfully a lot of people like that. We hear a lot about the NBA stars like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, the 0.001 percenters, the real big superstars. But there are people who don’t reach their level of notoriety, but still have great success in their sports career and in business ventures at the same time. And a lot the times they can put it together - we have clients who have explored moving to the front office of their teams or to the broadcasting booths while they were still playing, and I think it has worked out well for them.”
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