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Almost One-Sixth of Retired NFL Players File for Bankruptcy

  • Thursday, April 23, 2015

    “Are you ready for some bankruptcy!?”

    You can almost hear Hank Williams Jr. shouting that out as a new anthem for Monday Night Football.

    NFL players are paid an enormous amount of money to play a game that a lot of us would play for free if only our spouses would let us. And most of us would agree that they deserve every penny of it.

    The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business that wouldn’t exist without its fans, and its fans wouldn’t exist without its players. But with so much money available, how can it be that so many players end up broke so soon after retiring?

    The Fumble

    The National Bureau of Economic Research recently reported that 15.7% of players in the NFL file for bankruptcy within 12 years of retirement. How on earth is this possible?

    The starting salary in the NFL is $420,000. If a player at this income level lives a lavish lifestyle and only plays for a few seasons before retiring, then maybe it’s not too hard to imagine how a lot of these guys could end up filing for bankruptcy, especially if they are unable to parlay their NFL career into something lucrative in the civilian world.

    But is it just the “low” income, short-term players who are filing for bankruptcy?

    The Blindside

    Interestingly enough, the study found that the length of time a player was in the NFL did not change the probability that he would file for bankruptcy. So that eliminates our first hypothesis – that only players with a short career file for bankruptcy.

    But what about high-paid players? Surely they aren’t the ones filing for bankruptcy.

    Unfortunately, the study does not address the income level of the players who filed. But, if we take a quick look at some of the names on the list, we can easily see it’s not just the guys on the bottom who are going broke.

    Neutral Zone Infraction

    Here is just a fraction of big names from the NFL who filed for bankruptcy. All of them made boat-loads of money while playing: Vince Young, Danny White, Tiki Barber, Michael Vick, Warren Sapp, Lawrence Taylor, and Johnny Unitas.

    Though there’s no obvious explanation for why so many players file for bankruptcy, the study sites the issue of a spike in income – something that lottery winners also face. And we have all heard stories about how quickly they go broke.

    When there is a spike in income, an individual quickly becomes accustomed to being rich and the lifestyle that goes with it, but the income only lasts for so long. Without significant savings and a new lucrative career, the former player must either radically adjust his lifestyle, or face a rapid approach towards economic demise.





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