With player contracts worth millions and lucrative endorsement deals on top of that, most of us wonder why it seems that so many NFL players end their careers without a dime to show for their time in the spotlight.
As recently as 2015, research has shown that close to 80% of NFL players go bankrupt.
When a former player loses it all, the story makes headlines, but the underlying reasons might surprise even the most ardent fan.
Not Everyone Gets Rich Quick
In the first place, all NFL players are not paid the same, and most players don’t make as much as you think. The minimum salary for a rookie is $450,000 per year, and the majority of players are paid closer to that figure. Since the average length of an NFL career is 3-4 years, a minimum-salary player makes around $2 million over the course of his entire career, far less than the headline-making marquis players might make per game.
Bad Money Managers
Often a lack of comprehensive money sense and guidance can also contribute to a player’s financial downfall. Like most college grads, players rarely have training in financial planning, taxes, budgeting and long-term investment.
Given that many of these athletes are seeing large sums of money for the first time, they are even more at risk for frivolous spending or, even worse, placing their financial decisions into the hands of unskilled or unscrupulous managers they assume will direct them away from serious money mistakes. By abdicating or ignoring their responsibilities, they set themselves up to see a zero-balance in their futures.
Life Gives You Leeches
While there is the noble impulse to use their new windfall to support family and friends, the sad truth is that appeasing the demands of this group – one that often grows larger after the player finds success – can very quickly leave him penniless.
Lavish gifts, new homes, fancy cars, it adds up quickly. In addition, as a young player makes a name for himself, new sexual opportunities arise. Many current and former NFL players find themselves paying out large sums in child support to multiple women.
There is also the threat of divorce to contend with; absent a prenuptial agreement, athletes can find that ending a marriage may end up costing them more than half of their income.
Life After Football Is Rough
Lastly, players are rarely encouraged to prepare for their second act. No one talks to them about the future. Some players are drafted into the league before they have completed their college education; some before they finish high school. When football ends, they have no degree or other practical experience to fall back on.
They may also be facing a lifetime of heavy medical expenses; even short careers in the NFL take a serious toll on the body. Joint, bone and muscle damage require expensive treatment, and compromised health can further limit the types of jobs a former player may be able to take on later in life.
The NFL has programs and classes in place to try to assist players in taking control of their finances and futures, but since the education is only suggested, not mandatory, there will continue to be football stars who flame out financially when it’s all over.