I viewed a documentary recently that graphically painted the sad picture that many know, but find it easy to push aside and ignore. The subject was about the professional athlete and the enormous monetary contracts they are receiving today and especially the loss of it after retirement. The tragedy and sadness is not that these super performers are multimillionaires, but that a large percentage are broke, bankrupt or have serious legal problems regarding money, or all of the above.
78% of NFL players are in this predicament within two years of their exit from football. 60% of NBA players are broke within five years of their retirement from the game.
One former NFL player said that you enter the league out of college, expecting to make this game your career. He said, “But it’s not a career. It’s an opportunity.” It’s an opportunity that most are not afforded and one the body can only handle so much of. It’s a race against time to see how long the body can endure punishment, injury and operations. One sage has said, “NFL really stands for ‘Not for Long.’“
The athlete leaves the college ranks (many times before graduating) and is thrust into the world of professional sports, with all the glitz and glamour and big bucks. The big money is extremely attractive, but without sound, trusted advice the possibility of squandering it on high living is much too often the reality. Most of these young men have no business acumen, guidance counseling or even understand the necessity of paying taxes.
Some have said that they had advisors, but that they informed the advisors they were the boss and that they would do what they pleased with their money. Most thought that if they made a million dollars, they should pocket a million, not realizing that Uncle Sam would expect (no, demand) his $400,000 or so.
The result – 50,000 square foot houses with multiple swimming pools and multiple bowling alleys; buying and furnishing houses for family and friends, multiple luxury cars and extravagant gold jewelry, and even competition off the field among players regarding all the above, as in, who can wear the most chains and throw the biggest party.
Herman Edwards, former NFL player and head coach has begun holding seminars for the incoming rookies. Coach Edwards gets very personal with these starry eyed athletes and explains the situation to them. He even says, “One is good. One car, one house; you don’t need more. You can only drive one car at a time.” But he sadly says that many of them are tuned out and disinterested in what he has to say.
The additional problem in all of this is that these guys have taken on the role of advisor to our culture today. We wear their personalized jerseys, get upset if they have a bad day on the field and hang on their every word in their press conferences. The fact is, many of these multimillionaire athletes have never written a check or had to hold down a steady job to make ends meet, which are the basic necessities of life that these adoring fans are experiencing every day.
But these guys have their day in the sun for a short time, and if they are fortunate, they will not have a permanently broken body when they retire. And we all should hope that they would seek sound advice and put that money to work for themselves and their families.
America needs great sports and, especially, great sports role models for our youth. We do not need irresponsible sports figures that only think of themselves for the immediate moment. Our kids that look up to them deserve better.
Sometimes I think that the hype of the sports arena is an opiate for the masses to take their eyes off the broken world for a short time. Maybe that’s true and maybe we can find some redeeming value in hiding from the real world while watching “heroes” perform. But that is temporary and the real world awaits us at game’s end.
To the professional athlete, I would say, “See what you have as a great opportunity that most do not enjoy. Play your game with passion, but always remembering there is a real world out there that will catch up to you one day. Be wise and prepare for it.”
“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom…for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.” Proverbs 3:13-14