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Ex-NFL Player Helps Athletes Beat 'Cycle of Financial Failure'

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My grandfather was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and we followed him to Atlanta from Pine Bluff, Ark. where I was born.

I graduated from Georgia Tech, where I was a pre-med student and a bioengineering major. The month after I graduated, I was drafted in the third round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

In my first years in the NFL, I spent the offseason attending medical school at Temple University, where I met my wife. After watching her go through two residencies and a fellowship, I decided that I didn’t want to spend 10 years after football trying to get my medical degree.

During my time in football, I watched teammates fall on their faces financially after the end of their career. I felt there was a need for someone to support their efforts to overcome the cycle of financial failure. Athletes are a different breed − you have to approach their goals and objectives differently because their careers could last anywhere between five and 15 years. They still have a majority of their lives to live and pay for. I wanted to be a part of the solution.

So during my fifth year in the league, I took a course in real estate investment at the Wharton School of Business and fell in love with business. That’s what led me to wealth management after my football career was over. In the off-season, I was in school. It was very important for me to stay active mentally in terms of making the transition.

The majority of my client base is sports-related: professional athletes, coaches and their family members. The thing I focus on most in my practice is managing lifestyles. With players, or anyone who isn’t an athlete, it’s about helping them understand the different phases of their lives.

The most challenging part of my career has been the fear of being rejected by clients. We all have to overcome when someone says “no” in this business. I have 19 years of experience, and over that time I’ve learned the only way you can overcome the fear is to be prepared.

After getting married and having two daughters, my biggest accomplishment was making the successful transition from actively playing sports. It’s very difficult — mentally, emotionally and psychologically — to wean yourself off something that’s been a huge part of your life. I feel comfortable now that that lifestyle is behind me.

Moving forward, my goal is to help younger advisors wanting to work with athletes using my approach. That’s being flexible and having a deep insight into the lives of the players and their families.

Reggie Wilkes is a senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch.  As told to Maddy Perkins.

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