Boomer Esiason is busy—I mean, really busy. “Starting next Tuesday, all the way until after the Super Bowl in 2015, I think I’ve got about four days off,” he told me.
Why, then, was he anxious to talk about financial planning and life insurance?
It’s because he has a message for today’s youth: “Protect your future and make sure that whenever adversity strikes, you are prepared for it.” Prepared, among other things, with the appropriate level of life insurance.
But how did one of the National Football League’s great quarterbacks and commentators become an advocate for life insurance and the spokesperson for Life Happens, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of planning with life insurance?
Last year, Esiason told me a story involving his parents. His mom died when he was only seven, putting a financial strain on his father just when he was already facing the daunting task of leading a devastated family. But this year, Boomer wanted to talk specifically to his own children’s generation, the oft-maligned Millennials.
Make no mistake, Boomer and his wife, Cheryl, have gone to great lengths to ensure the “entitled” tag so frequently associated with Millennials never rests on their children, Gunnar and Sydney, two standout scholar athletes. “There was no entitlement, there was no, ‘When I graduate high school I’m going to get myself a new Ferrari,’ or any of that crap,” he said.
The Esiasons made their expectations very clear: Gunnar and Sydney were “…to be good citizens, go to school, get good grades and [go to] college. There was no option other than college. There was no ‘I’m not going to college. College is not for me.’”
But it was also made clear that college was more of an investment than a gift. “We discussed the cost of college with them, taught them what 529 plans were, why we were investing in them, how much we invested in them to give them a head start, and how fortunate they should feel that financially we were able to do that for them,” Esiason said.
The report card? “I’m here to say, as both kids graduated from Boston College, that not only have they done what we’ve asked, they’ve exceeded our expectations with their goals, and now they’re starting their lives themselves.”
That might be an understatement, especially in Gunnar’s case. The 23-year-old has already surpassed the life expectancy—19—handed down when he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 2. But thanks in part to Gunnar’s willingness to share his story and assume a leadership role at the Boomer Esiason Foundation, the organization, now in its 19th year, has raised more than $100 million for the fight against cystic fibrosis.
Gunnar’s condition was another big reason that Boomer has long been a proponent of life insurance. “I use my life insurance,” he said, “to make sure that his life is always going to be free of debt, and free of concern for money.” After all, the cost of pursuing treatment, and a cure, to the “orphan illness” is mind boggling.
It’s a lesson that Esiason now passes down to all Millennials, for whom he seems to feel compassion more than the trendy and popular disdain. He sees their addiction to non-stop digital stimulation and propensity to jump from job to job, but he also sees their struggle. “I see the frustration because sometimes I think this generation feels like, given the state of the economy over the last eight or nine years, that there’s no place for them to go to [pursue] the American dream they see their dad and mom living.”
Boomer Esiason is not short on opinions, or the ability to articulate them, which is a handy skillset in his second career. But his advice to young people isn’t detached or patronizing. He understands, because of what he’s experienced in his own life, that no one is going to hand you anything. “You guys are going to work hard and become something of success by yourself,” he said.
He also understands, because of what he’s observed in his children’s lives, that tomorrow isn’t promised for anyone.
Reflectively, he told me, “I would probably live my life exactly how Gun lives it. He’s a very practical realist, but he lives day-to-day, moment-to-moment, and he gets the most out of every single day.”
That’s good advice, at any age.
This commentary originally appeared September 11 on Forbes.com
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