“Today is your day to go out into the world. You’re going to be great!” This affirmation is one of a precious few memories that National Football League great, Boomer Esiason, can vividly recall about his mother, who died when he was only seven.
She was the “Belle of the Ball,” according to Esiason’s grandparents and older sisters—a beautiful singer, dancer and piano player who “would light up a room” with her blond hair and blue eyes, inherited by her only son. But Boomer was not old enough to own these recollections himself. Those memories endear him to the woman he can barely recall, but his enduring memories are limited to only two. The first was sitting on his mother’s lap while she tied his shoes on the first day of kindergarten, whispering prophecies that would indeed come true. The second and last memory was being denied access to her hospital room as she died of ovarian cancer. Young Boomer was relegated to sitting in a courtyard, the scene emblazoned in his memory, as his mother would occasionally come to an overlooking window to catch a glimpse of her boy.
Living With A Broken Heart
Almost 30 years later, in 1996, Esiason found himself at that same hospital visiting his maternal grandmother shortly before her passing. But that time, as an adult with children of his own, he recalls looking from his grandmother’s room, fixating on the very courtyard where he once sat contemplating the loss of his mother. There was so much that he didn’t—couldn’t—understand as a child that he was able to comprehend as a husband and a father.
Boomer’s father, Norman, was a member of the Greatest Generation, a World War II veteran who took advantage of the G.I. Bill. He worked his way into a solid job, but his wealth was in his family, not his balance sheet. The loss of his wife—her income, of course, but especially her presence—had a significant negative impact on their household. But quiet, reserved and proud, he never once considered complaining or outwardly lamenting the financial difficulties he endured after the passing of his wife, even shielding his children from the reality. Boomer recalls at the age of 16, lingering as his dad finished the weekly examination of household finances so that he could ask for five dollars to take his girlfriend out, a favor he was rarely denied.
“I know that he lived with a broken heart,” the younger Esiason confessed. “He died in 1999 on Thanksgiving, of all days, at the age of 77. But from the time that my mother passed away in 1968 to 1999, I never saw my father with another woman in all those years. He raised me with a broken heart and I think I was his escape.” Indeed, Boomer gave his dad something to cheer about. After setting 17 school records at the University of Maryland, he was drafted into the NFL by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1984. In 1988, he led the Bengals to the Super Bowl and was voted Most Valuable Player of the league. His dad was also able to see his son retire from football and begin a successful broadcasting career that continues to this day.
Today, however, Boomer’s passion for football seems eclipsed only by his desire to pass on the life and financial lessons that he has learned through experience. So when Boomer was asked to be the spokesperson for Life Insurance Awareness Month by the LIFE Foundation, it was an easy decision. “This absolutely fits what has happened to me in my life for a number of reasons,” Esiason told me as he opened the window into his life beyond the gridiron. “When I became an NFL football player and decided to have kids in the early 90’s, I recognized that I didn’t want to have happen to my kids what happened to us, as [we were] struggling when I grew up.”
Further compounding the importance of life insurance for Boomer and his wife, Cheryl, is the fact that their son, Gunnar, has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that primarily attacks the lungs and often compounds the impact of other illnesses. Day-to-day medical expenses are high, and the cost of finding a cure, higher still. So in addition to the $100 million raised by the Boomer Esiason Foundation to benefit all CF patients, Esiason sees life insurance as vital to ensuring that his son has the financial resources necessary to continue his push toward a cure. “If I don’t protect [Gunnar’s] future and I don’t protect my family’s future, then if we ever found ourselves in the situation that I found myself in when I was seven, it would be an unmitigated disaster and my kids and my wife would not be able to sustain the life that we’re fortunate to live now.”
Boomer and his best-friend, Tim O’Brien, made the decision to acquire adequate life insurance for their respective families together in the early 1990’s. Later that decade, O’Brien helped move the Boomer Esiason Foundation headquarters “closer-to-heaven,” to the 101st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. While thankfully all of the Foundation’s full-time employees were absent the morning of September 11, 2001, Esiason lost over 200 friends, among them, Timothy O’Brien, husband and father of three children, ages seven, six and four when he died.
There is no financial strategy or product that can return a life when it’s been taken, but the life insurance conceived in Tim O’Brien’s foresight allowed his family to grieve properly and to move forward deliberately, without fear that their livelihood was also at risk. There is no athletic accolade that will reprogram Boomer Esiason’s brain with memories of tender moments with his mother at his high school or college graduations, his wedding or the birth of his children, but the financial and life lessons learned from her loss and the endurance demonstrated by his father are already being passed on to future generations.
“My business is me.”
“I don’t have stock options and I don’t own companies,” Esiason told me. “My business is me.”
Although I’ve never been asked to provide color commentary for the Super Bowl, and most of the people I know have never been voted the MVP of the most valuable sports league in the world, the same can be said for most of us: My business is me. Your business is you. Have you really done adequate financial and life insurance planning to ensure that those you love would be cared for even beyond the demise of your business—you?
Most people avoid conversations about life insurance because we generally don’t like to brood over the topic of our own demise, and many attach a hard-sale stigma to the life insurance business, using that as a rallying cry for inaction. Death’s inevitability considered, a fear of it is certainly understandable, but meaningful discussions on the topic can be surprisingly life-giving. And while the entire financial industry has more work to do in its evolution from sales to advice, the stereotype of pushy life insurance salesmen coercing you to sign your life away is grossly overstated. Besides, neither of these concerns reduces the importance—the responsibility—of planning for the unexpected.
Boomer Esiason doesn’t sell life insurance. He’s an ex-pro football player, an NFL commentator and the chairman of a foundation in support of the cystic fibrosis cause. I don’t sell life insurance. I’m a fee-only financial advisor, an educator and a writer. Both of us, however, wholeheartedly support the LIFE Foundation’s initiative to bring awareness to the vital role of life insurance within financial planning in the month of September. Consider utilizing their life insurance calculator and description of the different types of life insurance as a first step in that journey. Feel free to ask me questions about your specific situation in the comments section or via email at tim at timmaurer dot com. But please don’t let “Look into life insurance” be another important to-do left undone.