When Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie first came into the league seven years ago as the Chargers' first-round pick, he was addicted to spending money. We have no medical training, so this isn't a clinical diagnosis, but Cromartie acknowledged in a recent interview with Newsday's Bob Glauber that he had a serious problem.
"I was out of control," Cromartie said. "I remember [former Chargers teammate] Quentin Jammer used to tell me to slow down, but I couldn't do it. I just loved spending money."
How bad was it?
Cromartie says he spent $5 million -- basically all the guaranteed dough from his rookie contract -- in his first two years in the NFL. The laundry list of things he didn't need included nine cars, two homes and a lot of jewelry, not to mention the money he gave to family and friends.
"I had two Dodge Chargers, probably spent $100,000 just fixing them up," he said. "I had a '65 Caprice, which I spent $100,000 on. I had two BMWs, two Escalades."
But Cromartie won't be a cautionary tale of how a gifted professional athlete squandered millions during his peak earning years only to file for bankruptcy shortly after his career came to an inglorious end. Instead, he serves as the financial voice of reason for teammates thanks in large part to Jonathan Schwartz, a Certified Public Accountant with the financial services company GSO Business Management in Los Angeles.
Schwartz, who was recommended to Cromartie by Gary Wichard, the cornerback's late agent, invited Cromartie to spend a few weeks at his Southern California home to see what a settled home life looked like.
"[Cromartie] didn't surround himself with caring and loving people, and I wanted him to see me and my family and realize I cared about him. I wanted him to see a family life," Schwartz told Glauber. "My intention was to show him that there are people who love you for who you are, not for how much you make. When I first met him, I saw a wonderful heart and human being that people were taking advantage of, and I wanted to be a part of seeing his personal growth. Part of that is financial discipline."
One of the biggest problems facing young people who suddenly come into a lot of money but are wholly unprepared to deal with it: friends and family looking for handouts. Former West Virginia star and Rams 2013 first-round pick Tavon Austin knows the feeling all too well, and he's been in the NFL a grand total of six weeks.
"Everybody expects a lot of things from you as far as money," Austin said, according to the Rams website. "My phone doesn't stop ringing now. It feels like they're counting my bank account now."
Thanks to Schwartz, Cromartie no longer has that problem.
"I tell Cro, 'If a friend or family member (calls) to borrow money, have them call me.' I'll often say, 'Antonio has good intentions. However, at this time, I've earmarked his money for other things and we don't have that readily available.' For the most part, they don't call back."
As for the mechanics of how this all works, Schwartz says that Cromartie's salary goes straight to his office where Schwartz and his staff pay Cromartie's bills, contribute to the cornerback's investments, all while keeping Cromartie apprised of where each dollar goes. As it stands, Cromartie's retirement is fully funded until age 100, and his family won't ever have to worry about money.
If you're like us, you're no doubt wondering how this is possible given all of Cromartie's child-support payments. Glauber writes that the program Schwartz set up "includes monthly child support payments for each of Cromartie's children, all of whom will be provided for through college."
The experience has transformed Cromartie into a champion of fiscal conservatism.
"I want to help others learn from what I did wrong," he said. "I tell the young guys, 'Don't spend any money the first year and a half of your career,'" Cromartie said. "You don't know what will happen after that. You might be released. You might be hurt. Just save your money."
Cromartie is even driving a Prius. Sure, he has plans to "put some rims on it," but, hey, he can afford to now that he's curbed his free-spending ways.