The NCAA tournament is a tradition this time of year, but in the terms of the universal language – money – the real madness of March is in the NFL. In March the highlight reels are long and the contracts are fat; headlines tell of another young man in his early to mid-twenties raking in millions of dollars in guaranteed money.
Every year exceeds the prior one for the highest paid contracts in history, and as outlets like Sports Illustrated have estimated, around 80% of these men will be broke within three years of leaving professional football.
The average salary of an NFL player is $750,000; the minimum salary is $450,000. The vast majority of players are practice squads guys, back ups, and role players; a very small percentage are pulling in the headline worthy, top dollar deals.
Despite this fact, most players are making more money than 95% of the country and when you factor in their age – the average age of an NFL player is 27 years old – it is hard to fathom the possibility of your favorite superstar wide receiver filing for bankruptcy, picking up the pieces and starting over like any other average Joe who goes bankrupt.
The average NFL career lasts less than four years and injuries can end a career in a fraction of a second.
I’m a bit of an idealist and a dreamer so I like to think in my naivety that these guys are fortunate enough to be paid millions of dollars to play a sport in their twenties – maybe into their early thirties – then they will retire and can move on to a second career, never having to worry about money and getting to do what they love.
Maybe they ride off into the sunset like Shaquille O’Neal and do Gold Bond and Oreo commercials.
How naïve that is. I think back to college and the times I would run into the football players or basketball players on campus or at parties.
“So what do you study?”
“Study? I play football.”
Every kid who walked onto the squad had big dreams swirling around their head, and the ones who looked probable to make it to the league were reassured by everyone around them that they were on the path toward stardom; which even if they are, these affirmations usually contain a great amount of hyperbole.
But tell a 19 year old kid he’s going to be a star and make so much money that his kid’s kids never have to worry about a thing and it’s highly unlikely that he will be interested in macroeconomics anymore; I know I wouldn’t.
But kids are all they are, and unfortunately they became prey to adults who see them as a ticket to their own personal wealth. It is like they suffer from a resource curse that plays out on an interpersonal level.
Financial planners coax them into signing sketchy deals that give the planners unquestioned authority to invest or spend the athlete’s money however they see fit. Family and friends begin appearing out of the background and guilt athlete’s into helping them out, under the flag of some distorted moral code.
While in college and early on in their careers it seems like everyone forgets these guys are still very young. They possess gifts of athleticism that seem super human and they do not look like your average young adult, but mentally they are at the same level of emotional maturity as anyone else in their early twenties.
Browse through the sports section one day this March and you’ll probably see a story of a young man landing the biggest NFL contract in history next to a story of another bankrupt athlete whose poster you had on your wall as a kid. It is a novelty to entertain all the things we could do with that kind of money, or the lavish lives these athletes live, but like their careers on the field it is all short lived and most of them are left with serious medical issues that affect their quality of life and even shorten it. When it is all added up it makes one wonder if athleticism of that caliber is a blessing or a curse.
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