When former Gators football player Ed Chester was injured on the first play of the UF versus LSU game in 1998, he had a feeling his football career was over. The knee injury proved to be career-ending, denying Chester the chance to ever play in the NFL. But Chester had made a decision before his senior year at UF that made his life after football somewhat easier. He had taken out a $1 million insurance policy to protect him in case he was faced with this situation.
Chester's policy was prepared by Keith Lerner, an insurance underwriter based in Gainesville, Florida. Lerner earned his bachelor's degree in political science from UF in 1984 and then completed his chartered life underwriter and chartered financial consultant designations from The American College.
"I knew I wanted to work in the insurance industry, but I was not anticipating working with college or professional athletes," says Lerner. "I always had an interest in sports, playing them when I was younger and then attending UF football, baseball and basketball games. I realized athletes would be interesting people to work with."
Since establishing his own business, Total Planning, Lerner has written more than 100 policies for high school, college and professional athletes, ranging from football, basketball and baseball players to female golfers and tennis players. He also has had inquiries from bull riders and polo players. But Lerner says not just anyone can obtain an insurance policy. "The athletes with policies have to be projected to have a professional career. I use different scouting and draft services to determine when a player might be picked to go on to the next level."
Lerner says the magic number for a player is usually a $1 million policy, but some players could earn more or less. "In football, for example, some players end up with two, three, four-million dollar policies if they are going to be a potential top five pick in the NFL draft," says Lerner. "Others can obtain a $250,000 or $500,000 policy. The cost for a football player to have a $1 million policy is typically $15,000 per year." Lerner explains that the athletes are covered both on and off the playing field, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "If they are in a car accident, and can't play their sport ever again, the policies pay out."
In addition to Ed Chester, Lerner has represented other Gators football players, including, Kevin Carter, Jevon Kearse, Jesse Palmer and Gerard Warren, as well as baseball player Pat Osborn. One of Lerner's most recent cases that garnered a lot of media attention involved University of Miami football player Willis McGahee, who injured his left knee in the fourth quarter of last year's Fiesta Bowl game. McGahee had taken out a $2.5 million insurance policy before he was injured, and the policy was signed just prior to the national championship game. "His policy literally went into effect right before he played, but during the past year, he has recovered and won't need to use it," says Lerner.
Since McGahee's injury, Lerner says insurance policies for collegiate athletes have become even more popular, and he is starting to receive calls from juniors and seniors in high school. "The youngest player I've ever insured is a college freshman basketball player, and I've written policies for football players in their 30s. The policy can change from year to year depending on the athlete's performance."
In order to find potential clients, Lerner attends many sporting events and says most of his business is by referrals since he cannot contact college athletes directly. "I've learned the ins and outs of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) rules, and you have to be very careful. Sometimes, a player might be getting a loan to pay for the insurance policy while he or she is in college. There are rules about how much a player can borrow and who they can get it from."
Living in a larger city with at least one professional sports team might be more beneficial to Lerner's business, but he says he and his wife, who also graduated from UF, have decided to stay in Gainesville. "I pride myself on my availability to work personally with each athlete, so I want the firm to remain small," says Lerner. "I get to know these athletes on a first-name basis and learn about their lives and their families. I've attended their weddings and visited them in the hospital when their kids are born. It's the extra special things I get to do that make my job even more enjoyable."
--Allyson A. Beutke