According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 78% of NFL athletes go bankrupt or are under financial stress within the first two years of retiring, as well as 60% of NBA athletes within the first five years. While this trend isn’t limited to football and basketball stars (indeed, Mike Tyson, Jack Johnson, and Lenny Dykstra have each declared bankruptcy), the frequency that it happens is astounding. Just like studying the on-field habits of our favorite sports icons can improve our game, learning from their off-field lifestyles can help us avoid striking out financially.
For example, take Vin Baker. Vin spent 13 seasons playing in the NBA for teams like the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and the LA Clippers. During his 13 year career, he earned an estimated $100 million. Currently, a mere 11 years into retirement, Vin is broke, has declared bankruptcy, and is reportedly in training for a managerial position at Starbucks. Vin’s tale is marked by alcoholism, bad investments, and a lavish spending style. What can we learn from Vin’s mistakes? During an interview with the Providence Journal, he said one thing he’d want people to learn most from his story is, “I’d want guys to not take the money for granted. It can be here today and gone tomorrow. It can be gone from the wrong financial choices and decisions and people that you’re involved with or, in my case, gone from things that you struggle with off the court.”
But not all professional athletes let their fame run them financially dry. Take Ryan Broyles, who was recently let go from the Detroit Lions where he played as a wide receiver. During his four year contract, he was slated to earn $3.6 million- roughly $900,000 per year. During this time, he limited his spending to what he could afford on $60,000 per year, and invested the rest. His mantra? “Wealth isn't what you earn now, rather your ability to make your money grow over time through smart decision making.”
Part of the problem that professional athletes run into is acquiring all this money early in life, before solid financial skills or decision making has set in, and at a time when impulsiveness hasn’t been curbed by experience. Many athletes don’t come from wealthy backgrounds, and don’t have a good concept of what $1 million dollars truly is or that someday, that multi-million dollar contract will end.
The ultimate lesson here is that it isn’t a question of making enough money; it’s a question of spending the right amount of money- or rather, not spending it, and preparing for the future.