Brandon Copeland

Personal Finance Lessons From a NFL Pro

NFL linebacker Brandon Copeland shares his money playbook with friends, family and students.

Brandon Copeland is an NFL linebacker who currently plays for the New York Jets. He teaches a college course on personal finance to undergraduates at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

Early in your NFL career, you traded stock options and flipped houses in Detroit on the side. Why jump to personal finance education now? Something I’ve always wanted to do is to make financial knowledge public and accessible. Whether I’m talking to family and friends about investing or teaching students about Roth IRAs, the goal is to make the information available and humble—not overwhelming.

College students don’t seem like the most receptive crowd for retirement planning. Where do you start? You’d be surprised! These things might be far off, and it’s hard to care about a decision that’s years away, but all of the students know they’ll have to deal with it eventually. We start with budgeting—understanding every dollar you have coming in and going out. People are shocked to see how much they’re spending on little things that pile up. The other thing we do—and this can be uncomfortable—is have students interview their parents or mentors about their finances. It’s not easy, but when they apply what we’re talking about in class to their lives, it makes it real and they start to pay attention.

You’re a professional athlete. How does that translate to the classroom? Personal finance is a lot like personal health. When problems come up, we tend to push them to the side and hope they just go away. But for health and finances, I think you should attack your problems. That’s something you learn as an athlete: When you attack injuries with therapy, you beat them. Personal finance is a skill, and skills need to be practiced.

But don’t a lot of athletes make a lot of bad money decisions? How do you handle that perception? You hear about athletes blowing their money, but it’s not an athlete-specific problem; it’s a general population problem. It’s news when we blow our money because our salaries are in the news. But everyone is struggling with personal finance management problems.

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