Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jimmy V and the Closed Wallet

Faded photographs,
Covered now with lines and creases

-Dennis Yost and the Classics IV

Former ESPN announcer and basketball coach Jim (Jimmy V) Valvano set up a foundation for cancer research after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June of 1992.

June, 1992 was when my father found out he, too, had terminal cancer. He and Jimmy V were of similar age, personality and outlook on life.

From the time they were diagnosed, dad and Jimmy V both fought against cancer like they were an entry at the race track. They never met, but when dad was doing better, it seemed like Jimmy V was improving, too.

Dad took strength from Valvano's motivational presence. I'm convinced that Valvano's emotional February 21, 1993 speech at North Carolina State inspired dad to live for another week. That speech fired dad up from his deathbed.

We buried my dad on March 4, 1993. I came home that night to watch the ESPY awards where Valvano gave one of the most extraordinary, inspiring and heart-touching speeches ever given.

Recently, ESPN devoted a week to raise money for cancer research. ESPN called it the "Jimmy V" week and they kicked it off by replaying Valvano's 1993 ESPY speech.

I was watching the speech and suddenly tears started running from my eyes.

I'm one of those guys who cries about once a decade. Yet I can't stop crying as I watch a 15 year old replay of Jim Valvano.

He was still raising money for cancer, a disease that directly impacted my family. It brings back every emotion of connecting with my father. I reached for my wallet.

Then I stopped.

Like a lot of people, I've cut back significantly this year. I've been generous in the past, but now a tougher nut to crack.

I don't know what the future is going to be like. Even though I am better off than most people, I want to be careful. Just like many other people.

I realized that if I hesitated on a cause so personal, it must be hell for the other charities raising money.

I'm not the only person thinking twice about giving money to charity. Or about spending money.

Most people have the same kind of hesitation that I have. And this compounds the financial crisis problem.

People are afraid to spend money, so retailers sell less and lay people off. Retailers are selling less, so factories and manufacturers quit making goods and lay people off. People quit buying houses and cars, and those sectors lay people off.

Fearful people stop giving money to charity, so those charitable organizations cut services and lay people off. With fewer people paying taxes, government starts cutting services and laying people off.

Then people get more scared because they see all their neighbors getting laid off. They tighten their belts even further and the cycle goes into another round. Then they get laid off.

It all comes down to confidence. A year ago, Jimmy V's foundation would have had my money before they cut to commercial. A year from now, it might be the same story.

Right now, there is little chance. I want to see if we have hit bottom.

It often takes something monumental to shift the spiral. The Great Depression really didn't end until World War II. In previous recessions, gimmicks like wage and price controls, tax cuts and stimulus plans were used to try to halt economic slowdowns. They rarely worked.

We need for the markets to run their natural course. Things will bottom out and people will get their confidence back.

We stalled the bottoming out by throwing billions of tax dollars at Wall Street.

The public is smarter than Washington gives them credit for. They saw through the $700 billion bailout as a gift from Washington insiders to Wall Street insiders. People on Main Street realized that none of the $700 billion would be helping them.

Thus, we have a crisis in confidence. I'm hoping that new presidential leadership helps. But people have to get this recent crisis behind us. We need to find out what mistakes were made and make sure they don't happen again.

To paraphrase Jim Valvano, we must never, ever, ever give up until we fix the problems that got us in this mess.

Someday, we will get our confidence back. When that happens, the Jimmy V foundation will be getting my donation.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC, is the Founder of the McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Kentucky. He is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler. You can write to him at or read his award winning, syndicated financial column at