Broke Millionaires: Why many NFL players wouldn't have survived a missed season


It’s good to be Peyton Manning.

With his newest contract, the future Hall-of-Famer stands to make upwards $90 million over five years, and probably much more if you include endorsements. Put another way, the worst-case scenario for Manning would be the Colts placing the franchise tag on him, meaning he would make a little over $23 million this season.

It’s common to see big figures like this talked about on ESPN, and on the local sports beat. A quick glance at MTV Cribs (or is it ‘Cribz’?) and you’ll be shown a big time athlete with ten Mercedes and a multi-million dollar mansion. Wheaties boxes and soft drink ads are covered with the faces of NBA, NFL, and MLB stars, who are handsomely compensated for their likenesses.

It’s no surprise then, that many people thought the NFL lockout would run a lot longer than it did, simply because they thought the players had the cash to wait it out. Sure, a few might have struggled, but most would come out of this thing unscathed.

Let’s get one thing out of the way early, I don’t wanna hear any complaining about how much athletes are paid. Seriously, if that’s how you feel, then stop reading this right now, and get to work on your million dollar business idea. Life isn’t fair. If it was, George Carlin would still be alive, Paris Hilton would be living in a trailer, and Reggie Miller would be wearing a championship ring. Just grow up already.

But I digress.

The vast majority of the guys in the NFL never reach that level of superstardom, or earn the lucrative endorsements that come with a recognizable face. For most of the approximately 1700 players in the NFL, the money is good, but not Peyton Manning good.

The average salary in the NFL is roughly $1 million give or take, and depending on who you ask, the average career length in the NFL is anywhere between 3-6 years. It’s rare that you see a guy like Brett Favre play into his late 30’s and early 40’s.

There are plenty of guys who make more, and many who make less than the million dollar mark per year during their playing careers, but no matter where you fall in the salary spectrum, it’s still a pretty good sized chunk of change, and enough to live a comfortable life.

Despite all that, there’s plenty of reason to believe that many players were nervous about losing future paychecks

So why are so many ex-athletes going broke at an alarming rate? According to one study, over 80% of former professional athletes file for bankruptcy or undergo significant financial stress, including divorce, once their playing days are over.

That’s an insane statistic.

Put another way, if you want to avoid bankruptcy, you’re almost better off emptying your 401(k) and unloading it all at the craps table than becoming a professional athlete.

How can that be? How can men who have made millions of dollars, many upwards of ten million over their careers, come out of the league with nothing?

The most obvious answer, and the one that probably popped into most of your minds, would be reckless spending. Do Mike Tyson or MC Hammer ring a bell?

While there are plenty of guys who bought white tigers and gold chains instead of putting a little bit of money away for the future, I’m going to skip past that angle, because it’s been done to death. It seems every other week, ESPN has a tear-jerking feature about some athlete reminiscing about the glory days while living in a dumpy apartment with no money.

There are plenty of other pros who, while they may not go out and spend thousands on cars or jewelry, are just plain ignorant about how to manage their money. Just because you hand a guy a check for a million dollars who once was poor, doesn’t mean he won’t be poor again a year from now.

Often these players are the victims of con artists posing as businessmen with new investment opportunities. Other times it may be someone they’ve grown up with who decides to live off their friend ‘Entourage’ style, thinking they’ve finally arrived on easy street.

Some of you are already sitting in front of your computers playing the world’s smallest violin, and that’s understandable.