Reaching Out To No. 7

By Dr. Boyce Watkins
Updated: May 20, 2009

NEW YORK — God bless, Michael Vick.

The man finally gets to go home, after spending 21 months in prison for the whole dogfighting situation. I was sickened by what happened to Vick for many reasons, starting with the fact that I think Michael was incredibly stupid for doing what he did. There, I said it.

Now that we all agree that killing dogs is a bad thing, let’s get to the real deal. First, there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who go out and kill animals every year. So, the idea that this man was a monster for what he did is a bit overboard.

Yes, killing Fluffy or Fido is certainly tougher to stomach than shooting Bambi in the woods, but the truth is that most of us are hypocritical for portraying Vick as a monster.

Secondly, the idea that this man should lose his entire career because of a silly mistake he made at the age of 27 is ridiculous. So, I want to give a shout-out to my respected homeboy Roland Martin for supporting Vick’s right to make a living.

I wanted to chime in on the financial side of the Vick case and share five things that I personally learned from the Michael Vick situation. I busted my butt trying to defend Vick on CNN, so I figured that I may as well take this full circle by ensuring that we all learn from his silly behavior.

Our most valuable lessons usually come from our most costly mistakes, so with all that he has learned, Vick should be a professor by now.

1. You never have an endless supply of money, even when you think you do.

Do you remember when you got your first job and would get that $150 dollar check? Didn’t it make you feel powerful, as if the money would last forever? You would fall victim to the intoxication of this power by spending $10 dollars here and $8 dollars there. Then, one day, you reach in your pocket for another five bucks and find out that there is nothing left.

Vick did the same thing, just on a bigger level. Many professional athletes spend money like it’s going out of style, and don’t consider the fact that their money will run out faster than they expect. The actor Will Smith explained it clearly by showing how “a million dollars really isn’t that much money”. After explaining how the IRS takes nearly half, and the agent takes another 20%, you end up looking like MC Hammer, who danced his way into bankruptcy.

2. Never feel that you are too powerful to go down.

Vick behaved in the same reckless fashion as many powerful athletes, politicians or business executives who think they are above the law. The problem with this philosophy is that you might be above the law 99% of the time, but it’s that 1% that gets you sent to prison. Always remain humble, even as you climb the ladder of financial success. The money can leave as quickly as it arrived.

3. Not budgeting is a great way to go broke.

When I saw a list of Michael Vick’s expenses during his bankruptcy proceedings, I almost threw up. This brother was setting himself up to be one of the many athletes who ends up penniless after playing professional sports. If you don’t know where your money is going, you won’t know where it went. Everyone should have a budget.

4. Toxic relationships can be as bad as toxic personal choices.

Vick seemed to have some “boys” who were steering him wrong. He was “keeping it real”, when he should have been “keeping it realistic”. This does not say, for one second, that you should dismiss hood loyalty when you become famous. But it does mean that you can’t have $20 million dollars in your pocket and not expect to end up as the victim of massive (as the great rapper Spice 1 would say) “player haterology”. When you have money, fame and power, you are also going to have jealousy and a lot of friends you probably don’t need. Putting yourself in bad situations when you have a lot to lose is a great way to end up dead.

There is an even a deeper financial issue as well.Dr. Fritz Polite, Professor and Director for the Institute for Leadership, Ethics and Diversity (ILEAD) at The University of Tennessee states that, “Many people don’t recognize the importance of protecting their personal brands. That brand constitutes your worth, whether you are a teacher, professor or an athlete. I would impress upon people of color to understand the value of creating, building, marketing and protecting their brands. Michael Vick created a valuable brand, but he failed to protect it.”

5. Be generous, but put a budget on your charity.

I have some relatives and friends who see me as a walking ATM. I’m ok with that, since the natural instinct of human beings is to smell out those who have access to resources. But I put a hard limit on my annual charity. If someone asks me for $500, I tell them that I am willing to give them $100 and I make it clear that they aren’t going to get anything else from me for the rest of the year.

That way, I can show compassion for those I love, while not breaking my bank account in the process. If you are financially prosperous, you should not allow the desire to protect your money to cause you to destroy your relationships (as we teach in Financial Lovemaking). But you should ensure that your loyalty to such relationships doesn’t drain your financial resources. So, when Vick gets out of prison, I hope he keeps a lid on “hooking people up”.

That even goes for his mama.