It’s a widely held perception that professional athletes peak early by earning millions of dollars before they reach the age of 30 just to lose most of it by the age of 40. But, maybe it’s time we start rewriting this narrative.
To be fair, there are multiple examples of former pros struggling to maintain the lifestyle of their glory days and having to sell their estates, championship rings and working jobs at Starbucks just to avoid going completely in the red. This is especially a problem in the NFL, where Sports Illustrated reported that 78 percent of players went bankrupt within two years of retiring as of 2009.
While this tragic story undeniably applies to some, it’s unfair to treat it as the standard narrative for all retirees with signs of trends heading in a positive direction. As evidence that this trend is moving in the right direction, only 16 percent of NFL players are now being reported to file for bankruptcy within 12 years after their retirement, according to CBS. This is a huge contrast from the 2009 statistics.
To serve as a living contradiction to that narrative, Marshawn Lynch, who recently retired after nine seasons the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks, reportedly hasn’t touched any of the money he’s received from NFL contracts. The estimated number going around claims he’s saved up nearly $50 million, according to Business Insider.
That’s a huge contrast from many other professional athletes. Watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary entitled Broke is enough to remind you of that.
Lynch, who became a fan favorite for remaining true to himself at all costs while dazzling fans with amazing plays, is just one of many examples of athletes who balance out the scales to match all of the horror stories. But saving all of his contract money and living off of endorsements isn’t something you’d expect every professional athlete to do. Luckily, there are multiple former players that have displayed the financial literacy needed to succeed long term in other ways.
Ryan Broyles was a standout player in college at The University of Oklahoma where he grabbed the record for most career receptions and yards before going down with an ACL injury. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions and signed a contract that would’ve given him $3.6 million in four years – $900,000 a year, respectively.
But Broyles was fully aware of how fleeting an NFL career can be, as well as the contracts that come with it. So he made the decision for he and his family to live off of a relatively modest $60,000 a year and to save the rest for later investments. This worked out well for Broyles because, due to a career with early injuries that were hard to overcome and trouble fitting into the Lions’ system, he asked to be released by the team in 2015’s preseason. If he managed to stick to his financial plan, he and his family should be able to afford living within their means for quite a while.
Tales of NFL players setting themselves up for the future don’t only include those with the foresight to stash away as much money as possible. John Urschel, center for the Baltimore Ravens, has started preparing to accomplish another dream that can either take the place of football one day or play an equal part with it in his life. He’s recently started the Applied Mathematics Ph.D program at MIT.
Math and football are both passions for Urschel. He acknowledges that both are mostly meant for the young, with the average football player in the NFL being in their mid-20s and the highest honor in math , the Fields medal, only being awarded to this under the age of 40. Obtaining a Ph. D from one of the best mathematics programs in the world is sure to help Urschel’s future.
“Time is constantly running out on you,” Urschel told NFL.com. “I don’t know when I’ll die. I don’t know when I’ll be fired by the Ravens. I don’t know when I won’t be sharp enough to produce elegant and meaningful mathematical results. But my plan is to work as hard as I can on both things and try to be as accomplished as I can in both things. They both bring me great fulfillment.”
While there are sure to be more shocking stories of retirees losing their wealth as quickly as they gained it, it may be time to walk away from the automatic assumption that going broke is a sure thing for them. Saving $50 million, thinking long term and living below your means, and getting a Ph. D from a highly touted program are just some of the many smart financial moves players are learning to make in this new athletic age.
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