July 30, 2020

Going for gold or going for broke? How Olympic athletes get left behind

Olympic athletes are people, too. So how come the current business model of the Olympic Games, a commercial feat that would be entirely impossible without said athletes, fails to take them into account?

In this episode of Business Casual, we’re talking about the intersection of finance and elite athletics with Lauryn Williams, a four-time Olympian, three-time Olympic medalist, and the first American woman to earn a medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. Oh, and also she’s a certified financial planner.

As Lauryn told me, “The business model has needed overhaul for quite some time. I think that it's one of those things that it just started and began to snowball and nobody really knows how to undo something and start from the ground up.”

That might be where COVID can play superhero. Given an extra year between now and the postponed Tokyo Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee has the chance to rethink the support it offers athletes—many of whom are now forced to put off lucrative brand deals and pay for an extra year’s worth of intense training.

And even in normal, non-coronavirus circumstances, the cards can be stacked against them. There are countless variables that go into the viability of professional sports as a career—where you’re from, what your event is, and whose attention you get can be financial make it or break it moments.

  • If you make it, you’re Michael Phelps. 
  • If you break it, you’re stuck crowdfunding your way to competitions, working multiple jobs on top of training to be the best in the world in your sport, and even going into serious debt.

Lauryn explains it all in this episode. Don’t miss it.


Business Casual - Lauryn Williams.mp3

Kinsey Grant, Morning Brew business editor and podcast host [00:00:07] Hey, everybody, and welcome to Business Casual, the podcast from Morning Brew, answering your biggest questions in business. I'm your host and Brew business editor, Kinsey Grant. And now, let's get into it. [sound of a ding]

Kinsey [00:00:18] The Olympics should be happening right now, as this episode first airs. We should be cheering on our respective country's teams, rooting for the next Michael Phelps or Simone Biles or Usain Bolt. We should be, but we aren't. The 2020 Tokyo Games have been postponed thanks to COVID-19. And while that really, really sucks, it has given us a little extra time to really take a good, long, hard look at the money that goes into these games—the business model of the Olympics. 

Kinsey [00:00:48] Our last guest, economist Andrew Zimbalist, made it clear that the business model makes close to no sense. It hinders the host cities and their local economies. It makes the richest of the International Olympic Committee even richer. And most importantly, according to Andrew, it does little to help the athletes. So today, we're going to talk about those athletes, the men and women who give us something to root for, who create the moments we never forget watching—breaking world records, inciting unparalleled national pride, and showing the boundaries are sometimes meant to be broken. 

Kinsey [00:01:20] Today, we are going to talk about the intersection of finance and athletics. And here to help us understand that intersection is Lauryn Williams, a four-time Olympian, three-time Olympic medalist, the first American woman to earn a medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. And to top it all off, she's a certified financial planner. Lauryn, welcome to Business Casual. It feels like you were honestly tailor-made to come on this episode and talk to me about this issue. 

Lauryn Williams, Olympian [00:01:47] Yeah. [laughs] I wish it was under different circumstances that I was tailor-made specifically for an issue, but I can't agree more. I come from a unique subset where I can talk about both finance and the Olympics. So let's do it. 

Kinsey [00:02:02] Let's do it. I'm excited, like I said. But before we get started, also, just tell us briefly about your events. I've obviously done a lot of my own background research, but I want to hear it from you. What were your events? Tell us a little bit about your Olympic experience. 

Lauryn [00:02:16] Yeah. So I did three Olympic Games in track and field. So 2004 in Athens, Greece, I earned a silver medal. And then in 2008 in Beijing, China, I got fourth place. It's the dreaded fourth place. So a lot of people ask the question, what's the worst place to get at the games? It is definitely fourth. You'd rather be eighth and just, like, totally be out of it than to be fourth and just be right out of the games. So close. [laughs]

Kinsey [00:02:38] So close. 

Lauryn [00:02:40] And then in 2012, I was part of the 4x100 meter relay team, where we earned a gold medal and broke the world record. And then I decided I want to do something a little bit different. So I switched on over to bobsled and went to a winter sport. And after just six months of competing, I earned a silver medal there. 

Kinsey [00:02:57] That is insane. It's such an interesting story. Everything really just speaks to the fact that you are so gifted in so many ways—athletically, but also just being willing to devote yourself to something that you had never even really thought about before. You know, that's awesome. But I also want to ask before we start talking about the nitty-gritty here, what was harder—preparing for the Olympics or preparing to take the exam to become a certified financial planner? 

Lauryn [00:03:20] Ooh, that's a hard one. I would say they were kind of equally [laughs] hard. The reason being is that, you know, Olympic Games obviously is a world stage and you're competing against the best in the world and for the title of best in the world. Whereas, CFP, it is a designation that's recognized worldwide, but it's something where they've really thought through how to be well-versed in all these different areas. And so it was quite a change for me to really learn a little bit about everything, but then also gain the experience that was necessary to carry those marks. And yeah, I'd say both are pretty hard. 

Kinsey [00:03:54] Yeah. And I think with something like CFP, you can obviously specialize within the financial planning world, but you have to understand all of it to some degree to get that certification. All right. So, we're gonna talk about this intersection, like I mentioned at the top, between finance and athletics. And I want to hear more about your experience specifically as an athlete who competed several times over on this biggest stage in the world. But before we get into that, I want to know—give me the TLDR here. Do you think that today's business model of the Olympics is working for the athletes who are competing in the Games? 

Lauryn [00:04:31] No. No, I do not. The business model has needed overhaul for quite some time. I think that it's one of those things that it started and it began to snowball, and nobody really knows how to undo something and start from the ground up. The one thing I am optimistic about as it pertains to COVID is this will give us the opportunity to break it down and start from the ground up, rebuilding a different model. Because it's not athlete-focused at all, and it doesn't serve athletes right now—the current business model of the Olympic Games. 

Kinsey [00:05:02] OK. And we'll get more to the COVID part of the conversation too. I definitely want to hear your perspective on that. I want to unpack some "why" it doesn't work for athletes, why it's not engineered to put athletes where they need to be. Because without the athletes, there would be no Olympic Games. They are really the core of everything. So let's start with the money part here. Do you feel comfortable sharing what you made as an athlete competing at the professional level? At the Olympic level? 

Lauryn [00:05:29] Yeah. I was a very fortunate athlete. There's the Big Three sports in the Summer Games—gymnastics, track and field, and swimming. And by being able to participate in those sports, you have opportunity to earn a little bit better. But then on top of that, within my sport, sprinting is one of the more coveted events, where you get a lot more promotion. And so I earned somewhere between $250,000 and $650,000 over the course of my career annually. It just varied depending on how well I did in a particular year. 

Kinsey [00:06:01] So it does matter how well you do—how much money you can possibly bring in. 

Lauryn [00:06:06] Very much so. The $650,000 a year was the year after I won the World Championship. And so that's one of the big kind of misnomers, is that actually winning a game or winning a medal is the thing that is going to, like, make money fall out of the sky. You have to be good the following year for the money to really kind of, quote unquote, fall out of the sky. The reason is because in track and field specifically, you go to the different races and you can get an appearance fee in addition to whatever prize money is already set. So there's a set amount if you win the race. 

Lauryn [00:06:38] But by simply being Olympic gold medalist or world champion, you get compensated for that just showing up and adding value to the actual race and the prestige of everything. So you want to be in great shape the year after you've done really well at a big championship so that you can capitalize on the income. 

Kinsey [00:06:56] Wow, that's so interesting. It's not like you can just hang the medal up and rest [chuckles] on your laurels. You actually have to keep going if you want this to be your livelihood. Lauryn, how much of what you were making at the time was part of brand partnerships—deals that you struck with brands. Is that a big part of the income structure for Olympic athletes? 

Lauryn [00:07:15] Yeah, it's a huge part of the structure and generally it's usually shoe companies, even across [indistinct]. So the Nikes, Adidas, New Balances, Asics, et cetera, of the world. Or, if you're in swimming, makers of swim caps and swimwear, et cetera. Those are the bigger ones, the equipment providers that will compensate you nicely and compensate you across multiple years. And you're dependent on that as kind of a salary, if you will. 

Lauryn [00:07:43] It's very different than, like you said, the kind of big three sports in America, where like baseball, basketball, and football, where you are a W2 employee of an organization and you have a paycheck coming every week or every two weeks and someone's taking taxes out, etc. In the Olympic sports world, what you're actually getting is some sponsorship from somewhere for whatever means or whatever you can get. And then you're having to set aside money for taxes and [indistinct] that money accordingly. And I guess that the contracts can last a year. They could be four years. We've seen a few, five- and 10-year contracts, but they're far and few between. You should generally expect something to be somewhere between three to five years. 

Kinsey [00:08:20] Right. And it sounds like this can vary so greatly from athlete to athlete. It really just depends on the personal experience of someone. 

Lauryn [00:08:27] Yeah. Not just athletes to athlete, but also sport to sport. So some sports are more recognized than others, so there's more opportunity there. Your ability to be able to tell your story, the ability of, you know, NBC is the main provider right now of actually televising the games in America. So if they decide they want to tell your story, you could become, in a very small sport that very seldom earns any prize money or gets any recognition, the face of the games. And then a lot of people try to attach themselves to you and you overnight become a six-figure earner. It just varies so drastically. 

Lauryn [00:09:03] I've heard stories of people who did not earn medals and earn quite a bit of money, up into the millions, just because their story was told. And then people kind of latched onto that story and ran with it. So it's not all performance that is going to allow you to earn in a way that's meaningful in the games. And I think that's the thing that's really frustrating for a lot of athletes is like, you know, if I just get the medal, then everything will be OK. If I just suffer through this a little bit, then I'll get blah, blah, blah, and it's not necessarily true. 

Kinsey [00:09:32] Right. And not only are you performing these essentially superhuman feats of physical fitness, but you also have to think about the business aspect of who's going to advocate for me. How am I going to get these deals? How am I going to make sure that I'm put in front of the right people at, you know, to your example, at NBC so maybe they do tell my story. So, who does that? Do you have to have an agent to get these kinds of deals? 

Lauryn [00:09:53] It is much better if you do have an agent. I mean, that's another really good point that you bring up, is that some of these athletes are in their 20s. I went pro at age 20. And as much as I'd like to think that I was a grown-up and well-versed in all aspects of business, you know, I was a junior in college as the finance major, so I'd learned a little bit. But I had very little life experience at that point to know how to market my brand and to talk to people that had been in the industry for multiple years. So it behooves you to get an agent. 

Lauryn [00:10:24] But overnight, you become a business owner. And if you don't have any skills in owning a business and understanding how to run a business, you fall prey to people that are not maybe scrupulous, and then you're very vulnerable to making mistakes. So the best thing you can do for yourself is to get yourself an agent. But you also have to do a lot of, kind of, closing the gap in that learning curve really quickly and understanding how to be a business owner, and how to decipher whether this is a good agent or a bad agent. What questions should I be asking? And hire someone that's going to help educate you along the way. It's like, don't let me just pay you to enable me; let me pay you to teach me so that I can become well-versed in this as well. 

Kinsey [00:11:02] It also, I think, is worth spending some time recognizing here just how much effort goes into training. It's not like this is just a regular nine-to-five job. This is a lot more. This really takes over your life in so many ways. I was reading a story recently about an Olympic fencer who was going to go to 2020, Monica, I believe her name is Aksamit? She basically crowdfunded her way to the Olympics because she's a fencer, it's not really a well-known sport, there's not a lot of promotional opportunities in the fencing world from what I can tell. 

Kinsey [00:11:32] And she had trouble getting a regular nine-to-five job because her training schedule was so unpredictable that she had a really weird schedule she had to keep to make sure that she was on top of her game so that she could possibly become the kind of person whose story would get told. So she crowdfunded her way, raised almost like $30,000 or something to go to Tokyo. But, you know, it's not a normal experience. It really is something that is extraordinary. 

Lauryn [00:11:58] It is very extraordinary. And I think a lot of people don't realize what happens behind the scenes. You know, Monica's story is one where she was able to get creative and able to get people behind her to raise enough money so that she could pursue her Olympic dream. I've come across many athletes over the course of my time participating as a financial planner or in the financial planning side of things that are going into debt—and intentionally going into debt—to pursue their Olympic dream. So they'll set up the crowdfunding. 

Lauryn [00:12:28] But, if it's not doing as well as they wanted to do, then they're doing what they can. They're working two or three jobs. They're crowdfunding. And they're also like, well, let's just use this credit card because I'm not going to not do this or I'm not going to not have what I need. And a year leading into an Olympic year is when that happens most frequently. Mostly athletes will have just less resources available to them and try to make ends meet from one season to the next. But heading into the Olympic Games, you know, all hands on deck, we've gotta do what we gotta do. 

Lauryn [00:12:57] And so it's been really tough to see people have to intentionally take on debt and high-interest rate debt in order to pursue their Olympic dream. And then you either go right and they're able to pay off the debt and just kind of break even, or it goes bad, and you're left with your dream shattered and this debt that you now have to work off and your finances in shambles. So, that's another part of the story that I think people don't really know or see or understand. 

Lauryn [00:13:22] And it's really hard to tell someone, you know, stop pursuing your Olympic dreams. You have no way to fund it. And so you should just sit on the couch instead. The challenge for me as a financial planner is to kind of get outside of my box and be creative about talking to people, about their goals, their values, and creating a plan around if you're gonna do this, how can we do this most responsibly? 

Kinsey [00:13:41] Because, I mean, the odds of being talented enough to actually make it to the Olympics are so slim then to have someone say, "Well, you can't afford to do this" has to be just absolutely gut wrenching. We're gonna take a short break. And when we come back, I want to hear how COVID is changing these things. Like you said, going into an Olympics year is when you're going to spend a ton of money. Now we have an extra 12 or so months. So we'll talk about that in just a second. Real quick, a break to hear from our partner. — 

Kinsey [00:14:09] And now back to the conversation with Lauryn Williams. So, Lauryn, before the break, we were talking about the cost of training, how those costs can often send athletes into debt. Do you think that postponing Tokyo for another year or so at this point is going to exacerbate this problem? 

Lauryn [00:14:25] I think that it is going to exacerbate the problem for some and then we're gonna lose a lot of valuable athletes in this process. The cool thing about sports is that it's unpredictable, which makes it really exciting to watch. But the bad thing about sports is that it's unpredictable. [laughs] So, why we all didn't see this coming? People are going to have to make decisions. 

Lauryn [00:14:46] I spoke to a young lady who was a swimmer, and she said this was my last chance. I've kind of been duct taping myself together for one last Olympic Games. And I don't know that I can continue to train for 12 more months. I'm at the end of my career. This would have been my—I think it would've been her fourth games—and I just don't know that I have what it takes to continue. And, in addition to the time out of the water, and the time that you weren't able to compete, and being indoors, and just being set back from a training perspective, in addition to having to train for that much longer to be at your peak. And now a whole new date that's different than the one you had previously been planning for. So it's been really tough on people. 

Kinsey [00:15:25] Right. So the decision from the IOC to postpone the games, from what I can tell on social media, was largely supported by the athletes, regardless of the different and oftentimes more challenging circumstances that presented them with. A lot of them recognized that this was a necessary decision. Do you agree with that? 

Lauryn [00:15:43] Yeah. In light of, you know, us dealing with something that we had no idea what the health impacts were, especially initially when this all got started. All we heard were lot of people are getting sick. A lot of people are passing away. We don't know the side effects. We don't know what could actually be happening to put a bunch of people in a stadium and say, like, well, best of luck to you. 

Lauryn [00:16:06] Just doesn't seem like a prudent or responsible thing to do. So, when you don't know, it's better to kind of postpone and wait. And I think we're all trying to get a better understanding of truly how COVID is going to impact people and our lifestyles, and just really understand what to do next. 

Kinsey [00:16:24] Right. And one point that our previous guest I mentioned before, Andrew Zimbalist, made was that there was conversation around doing with the Olympics what we've done here in the United States with the NBA—trying to put these competitors and their teams in a bubble and seeing what happens. But when you think about the scale of the Olympics, it's so much larger, like unfathomably larger than it is just putting the NBA in a bubble. You're also considering that these are people from all over the world. And he also made the point that a lot of the athletes are people of color. And it would look pretty bad to say, let's just go see how these 16,000-plus people fare because we just want to have these Olympics because we had it on our calendars. 

Lauryn [00:17:05] Yeah, I don't disagree at all. When you're dealing with something that's on a global scale, there's a lot more things to think about. The NBA, like you said, is relatively small. And I think we think of it as the TV coverage that it gets and it feels larger than it is. But you have a lot more resources in that world and then you have a much smaller community to deal with. When we're talking globally and different countries, the resources in those countries sometimes are pretty poor. 

Lauryn [00:17:32] So, you know, if we're thinking in America, in our First World resources and opportunities that we have available to us, it would still be a huge undertaking to get all of our Olympic athletes in some sort of bubble and taken care of with proper facilities, in addition to a safe environment that is going to be COVID-free. If you go somewhere to a Third World country, where they're barely making ends meet from one year to the next, they're not sure sometimes how they're going to get their athletes to the Olympic Games when everything is going normal. 

Lauryn [00:18:00] And then you add some parameters around COVID to that, it's a no-go for them. And it's going to be a huge impact on who's gonna be able to show up, who's gonna be able to compete, participate, the medalist. I can't think of a way that we could make it fair or put enough resources to stretch across the world to make sure that it was going to go right. 

Kinsey [00:18:19] Right. And I think given the experience of the last five or so months, this is probably the best outcome. There's not much else to be done. And hopefully, by the time 2021 rolls around, we'll still have [chuckles] the ability to have these games. And that the athletes will be able to show up en masse. And all the people who had planned their lives around 2020 will be able to do it in 2021. But beyond just the COVID situation, I'm curious if you think that the IOC gives athletes, in general, support. I'll leave it at that. An open-ended question. As an athlete, did you feel supported by the IOC? 

Lauryn [00:18:55] The IOC is doing a better job of thinking about the athlete as more than an athlete, and that is very recent. So I've been fortunate to participate in a lot of different boards and committees and things since I've retired and get more active. And I can't see behind the scenes things that are being done to support athletes off the field of play. I still think very much so that the IOC is falling short of supporting athletes on the field of play. And it's because they are not taking responsibility for the financial aspect of it. 

Lauryn [00:19:26] As we know, like you said, it's a very big business in the way that they are collecting sponsorship dollars, et cetera. But those dollars don't filter down to the athletes in a way that is, like I said, meaningful to help them be able to compete and reach their full potential. They're leaving that burden onto, you know, national governing bodies or the country in which the athlete is competing. And I think that they could do a better job of figuring out how to implement something where athletes can share in the revenues that are created because of the Olympic Games, instead of us showing up and it still being largely amateur in the sense that if you don't have a sponsor or some sort of way to get money, all you get is a gold medal and you get to go back home. 

Lauryn [00:20:05] It's been really appalling for me. As I've joined the financial industry and taken on more clients to see Olympic gold medalists who don't earn six figures where, you know, I started as a, like I said, junior out of college. Before I earned the medal, I signed a $250,000 contract. So I started to earn more pretty much immediately after because I did earn a silver medal. But I've met multiple gold medalists who have not even cracked the $100,000 mark. And I think for you to be the best in the world at what you're doing warrants some sort of compensation across the board that would allow you to have a regular lifestyle. 

Kinsey [00:20:43] So if you could restructure this system, how would you restructure it? Would it be that these athletes would somehow get more of the money? What would that look like? 

Lauryn [00:20:53] Yeah, I think some sort of revenue-sharing model would be really cool. So a certain amount of the revenues that are coming in being set aside specifically for athletes, and then those monies being dispersed specifically as prize monies for earning the medal. So, as an example, in the United States, I believe the number now is $30,000 that you get for earning an Olympic gold medal. And I think it goes down like 30, 20, 10. Don't quote me on those numbers, but it's around that much. But, yeah, $30,000 is entry-level job in most parts of the country here. So even if the IOC was just to match something like that, your country could do something to take care of you and the IOC would do something, you now be like closer to a medium living wage. 

Lauryn [00:21:38] And then hopefully sponsors could fill in the gap. But there needs to be some level of compensation simply for winning the medal at the games. 

Kinsey [00:21:45] It's also just insane. I want to remind people that the IOC is made up of, in some cases, literal royalty, like there are royals as members of the IOC. You know, they have so much money that it's hard to imagine why that hasn't been a proposed solution. 

Lauryn [00:22:01] Yeah. And the number of people that they travel to the games, to participate, to, you know, fill up first-row seats, to stay at five-star hotels, it just feels disproportionately—just unfair the way that athletes are living in an Olympic Village and sleeping two or three to a bedroom. Depending on who built the village, you [chuckles] might not have proper plumbing, and you're asked to go out and compete and be the best in the world while the people who are overseeing this total organization are having steak for breakfast, lunch, and dinner sort of thing, you know, in plush resorts and just really enjoying the experience a lot more than you would get to enjoy as an athlete competing. 

Lauryn [00:22:44] And it's not to say that these people shouldn't be compensated—they're CEOs and business minds. But it doesn't mean that they are more valuable than the athletes and that the athletes shouldn't be compensated. That's why I think revenue sharing would be a good idea. 

Kinsey [00:22:55] Do you see that as a realistic possibility—that the IOC does restructure itself in that capacity during this year? 

Lauryn [00:23:04] I am cautiously optimistic. We know that the people who are earning and benefiting from the current structure are going to be hesitant to change. But I think that, like I said, now more than ever, if there was something that we could create that was going to be mutually beneficial, that they might be open to that change, because everyone's job is on the line at this point. 

Lauryn [00:23:28] We don't have an Olympic Games next year. We're already, like you said, in unprecedented times. Like, I feel so weird that it's not on the four years. It's not in line with the election anymore. And I'm like, how is this all going to happen going forward? [laughs] If there's no games next year and there's yet another delay or we're talking two Olympic Games in 2022, I think sports overall, all the Olympic sports, can be in trouble—like big trouble as it pertains to the survival of the sport existing. 

Kinsey [00:23:56] Ugh. That's really unsettling.

Lauryn [00:23:56] Very, very unsettling. Imagine everything just going back to kind of club sports or intermural sports and just kind of no opportunities to see anything on a big scale. 

Kinsey [00:24:08] I would like to share your cautious optimism here—that we do see the necessary change—because the thought of all of this kind of just going down the toilet is really, like I said, unsettling and upsetting. And that's as somebody who has not trained [Lauryn chuckles] for her entire life for a specific sport and a specific competition. So we're gonna take a short break to hear from our partner. When we come back, I want to talk a little bit more about the financial literacy aspect of this conversation. —

Kinsey [00:24:35] And now back to the conversation with Lauryn Williams. So, Lauryn, obviously a huge part of this conversation that we've had so far has centered around the money that athletes can bring in. Obviously there are a lot of big variables when it comes to where you're from, what country you're coming from, what sport you're participating in, what year it is. Honestly, luck, [chuckles] I imagine has a big part to do with this. So when it comes to, though, the tools that athletes need to actually manage their finances to be financially well off, to understand what they need to do to manage their money well, are resources available for athletes who are looking to do that right now? 

Lauryn [00:25:13] There have been resources available and there are still some resources on a smaller scale available. But, as you said, COVID has kind of knock things on their butt. So as an example, I had a contract with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and we had just implemented it. So we had done a pilot program last year, and we were in year two of that program and starting to implement it on a broader scale when COVID hit. And as a result of the uncertainty, once again, they decided to put that program on pause. 

Lauryn [00:25:41] So, as we mentioned, not all the athletes earn six figures. In fact, the majority of the athletes earn nothing and are making ends meet by participating in their sport. And so when you're in a situation like that, it's important to have proper education in order to figure out how to stretch your dollars as far as possible. They'd never had anything like that available. And I guess the result was athletes finishing their career with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, with very little, very little clarity on what they would do next, how they would earn a living. Very few life skills on how to best earn a living. 

Lauryn [00:26:18] And they've created a really cool program called the Athlete Career and Education Program. So they call it ACE for short, where now you can reach out to them and get access to education. Graduate-level courses. And they're helping you with resume writing. They're teaching you tactics on negotiating. They have a whole program called Pivot where, as you're transitioning from sports to life after sport, they're helping you deal with those feelings in addition to get on the right path. 

Lauryn [00:26:44] And so finances are a huge aspect of that as well. And they just added that to the program. And now we're seeing it already being taken away. And it's been very, very valuable and fruitful for me to be a part of that program and to really hear the needs of an athlete who wouldn't normally be able to afford my services, and to know that the USOC is covering that because they see the athletes as more than an athlete and realize the value of having financial literacy and financial education so that they can make good decisions, so that they can reach their full potential in sport. But then also, like I said, life after sport. 

Kinsey [00:27:16] And we've talked so much on this show, but also, I think, just in the general zeitgeist in recent months, about trying to expand your definition of yourself beyond just what you do for a living. And so I imagine for somebody who is a professional athlete to feel like they're only considered an athlete and not a person who has needs outside of just a training facility, it's important. And I also think when you empower athletes like yourself to go back and reinvest in the community, to make sure that you're arming people with the right tools to have a successful career post-competition, it's really, really impactful. It can be hugely impactful. 

Lauryn [00:27:52] Yeah, it was a really big deal for the USOPC to see me as valuable enough to go into business with them, because I think the overarching voice or feeling has been like, you know, once you're done competing in sports, you get thrown away and they want nothing else to do with you. I was really feeling the effort that they've been making to re-include Olympic athletes in helping the current athletes, the former athletes to help the current athletes as we go forward. And for me to find a place to be able to give back to a community that's given so much to me was awesome. It's just been really tough now because, like I said, it doesn't exist anymore. They've had to put it on hold. And it's like those athletes are gonna suffer. 

Lauryn [00:28:34] That's the thing that is most concerning to me, is like, you know, when you don't have this information available to you, especially at a time where things like the Cares Act and PPP and the EIDL loan are coming out and they're talking about a new round of things. It's really hard to decipher all that if you don't have basic literacy, and even for those who have some financial skills or feel fairly organized, this stuff was unfolding very quickly and we were trying to, you know, I'm was staying up late, getting up early to read over the new rules, and update my clients as things happen. 

Lauryn [00:29:05] It's really important that as we head into 2021, that athletes have every dollar they can in their pocket to be able to compete in the way that they plan to compete and really reach their full potential for the games. 

Kinsey [00:29:16] And pave the way for the transition after they are done competing. I read that you recommend for athletes to have six months to a year of their take-home pay in reserve as an emergency fund. Do you think that that amount—that you would change that amount if you knew that COVID was coming. Do athletes right now need more than a year to make sure that they will be OK in the future? 

Lauryn [00:29:41] More than a year is ideal, but I wouldn't change the amount. I've seen since COVID has hit, those that have listened to me and have taken that part of it serious, and we've had to kick that emergency fund into place, really know and understand the meaning of it. Because six months sounds like a lot of money. When someone does the math on what six months of their take-home pay is, they're like, wait, what? 

Lauryn [00:30:05] And just the quick math is it's half a year. So whatever you earn in a year, cut that in half. [laughs] You got that in the bank. And it's not just in the bank. It's sitting in cash. And that's very uncomfortable for people. They're like, but I want my money to work for me, and I want it to be doing something. And I'm like, this money's job is specifically to sit and wait for when poop hits the fan. And we hope poop does not hit the fan, but we want to be OK if it does. And to explain to an athlete and really break it down to them, I always explain, like, well, what happens if you fall down and hurt yourself and your season's over? 

Lauryn [00:30:37] And I like to talk track terms since that was my main sport. But our season starts usually around March or April, kicking into full blast in May and it's done in September. Imagine in April you have a season-ending career. I mean, not career, a season-ending [laughs] injury. So now you have no May, June, July, or August, or September to compete and earn any additional prize monies. You're going to be in a tough place. Not only are you not earning any money that you were counting on, but now you also need to rehab. That's going to cost you money. And so now you can easily see how a one-year emergency fund comes into play because your next opportunity to compete is not to the following April or May. 

Lauryn [00:31:16] It's been a full 12 months in addition to additional expenses kicking in so that you could be in good shape 12 months from now so that you can go compete, because it's really hard to get disability insurance as an athlete as well. You have to be one of the higher earners to be eligible for something like that. 

Kinsey [00:31:31] Interesting. And I think that there's probably a lesson in that, even for those of us who only did track for one season in eighth grade. [Lauryn laughs] I love capping off this conversation with some advice to look forward and always be prepared for what is around the corner, because we're never gonna know what it is. We've definitely learned that in the last six months of everybody's lives. 

Kinsey [00:31:50] Lauryn, thank you so much for coming on Business Casual. It has been really, really interesting to hear your experience, to get a little bit more context and understanding of what it is like and the unique challenges of being a professional athlete competing at the top levels. I think that this conversation has really illuminated a lot of the disparities that are at play, but also it's been really, really compelling just to hear your story. And I'm, to borrow your words, cautiously optimistic as we move forward. So thank you so much for spending the time with me. 

Lauryn [00:32:19] Thank you so much for having me on the show. 

Kinsey [00:32:27] Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Business Casual. Our summer intern, Cynthia, has been putting out some incredible content on our Twitter. She's got everything from video footage from interviews to behind-the-scenes content and even some grade-A podcast humor. So go check it out and show your support for Cynthia by following us on Twitter @bizcasualpod. That's @ B I Z casualpod. And I'll see you next time. [sound of a ding]