ESPN 30 for 30: Broke (2012)

Directed by Billy Corben

With Renee, I thought I would be done with the 30 for 30 series. But upon doing a little bit more homework, I found a few more addendums (films released under ESPN Films which are not part of 30 for 30). Also, to my surprise, I found out that ESPN had decided to do a volume two of their acclaimed series. I am not sure what the significance of this 30 is, since it was originally for ESPN’s 30th anniversary, but I am excited nonetheless to get a few more sports documentaries to enjoy. The first 30 were a mixed bag, filled with anything from brilliant films capturing great stories, to poor films chronicling the mundane. But all in all it was a series well worth it. I can only hope that volume two will deliver the same gems at least here and there.

The first film in the second installment is entitled Broke, a film about the financial troubles of millionaires after they retire from professional sports. Directed by Billy Corben, making his second appearance in the series (he also directed the entertaining The U), Broke gathers together various players who have first hand experience going broke after making millions in the various professional sports leagues in America. It is a fact that sports figures make filthy money compared to the average worker. So then why is it that a number of these millionaires find themselves living paycheck to paycheck, and ultimately going completely broke to the point of bankruptcy after retirement. Billy Corben would have you believe that, while the players take a part of the blame, much of the problem simply has to do with a lack of financial education.

I agree that there is a severe lack of financial education in America today, just in general. I could probably afford to know a little bit more than I do, but I completely disagree with his presentation of the topic of bankruptcy in professional sports. Certainly Corben gathers the evidence to support his theory, bringing in broken stars to present their sob stories of massive entourages of people they hardly knew spending their money, and of not knowing that taxes would take a big cut out of their weekly paycheck, and how they had to “compete”, to keep up with the Joneses by buying that ridiculous chain around their neck, or that Ferrari even when they didn’t know how to drive a stick. How they didn’t realize that their paycheck was prorated for the regular season and that they wouldn’t receive any money in the off season. Boo hoo. #FirstWorldProblems

It was at this point that I recalled the story of Carson Palmer, the current quarterback for the Oakland Raiders and formally of the Cincinnati Bengals. He was unhappy with the management of the Bengals and wanted to be traded. He threatened retirement if he did not receive a trade from the team. As a man in his young thirties he had taken care of his money and set himself up to be able to walk away from the game if he wanted to, or was forced to by injury or some other unforeseen event. The Bengals did not trade him, and Palmer retired until he resigned with the Raiders. He played, and still does play, for the love of the game, not the money. The money is the benefit that helps him live his life while doing what he loves. That concept is lost on tons of professional sports players. I am sure Palmer’s story is not unique, but I also think it is likely that a minority of players could do what he did. But I wouldn’t know that either, Corben never explores the other side of the coin, making it seem like bankruptcy is an epidemic.

Seriously, this film infuriates me; it is kind of a joke that Corben thinks we should be sympathetic to these guys who made millions playing a game and then lost it all to stupid decisions. Corben readily admits that he is sympathetic to the players. Now, I don’t have any problem with this being the topic of a sports documentary film; in fact, I think it is a great idea for a documentary. But how Corben can come to the conclusions he does given the evidence he has assembled from the interviews conducted is just bizarre. I think Corben was more concerned with the style of the film than the actual purpose of it. The U, his previous 30 for 30 effort was stylish too, and it fit the subject matter, but I also found that the purpose, the narrative of that film was not lost to the style. The same cannot be said here.

Even the format of the film seemed strained. There was no real direction at all when it came to organization. I struggled to even find pictures to use for this review since the format consisted 95 or more percent of just talking heads being interviewed in front of the camera. You would think from this that it should have been a book instead, but at the same time, as I said before, I feel as though the story, the documentary is there, just perhaps under better directorial hands it could have amounted to something. Yes, I agree that financial education is nowhere near where it should be in our youth, but at the same time, much of these issues could be solved simply with the use of some good old fashioned common sense. It appears as though volume two will in fact follow in the footsteps of volume one, leading off with a lackluster film (King’s Ransom). But if that is the case, there are plenty of great films to come.

* – Poor


Written by

Adam Kuhn is a film critic and blogger at Corndog Chats. He started Corndog Chats in 2009 at the behest of his friends, and is very glad he did. Since then, he has been a contributor to The News Record and Bearcast Media, the student newspaper and radio station of the University of Cincinnati respectively, and most recently a member of the Columbus Film Critics Association.

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