It may seem like professional athletes have it made—earning millions and enjoying lifetimes of mansions and sports cars—but the reality is different. Only a few superstars enjoy this kind of life; on average, most professional athletes earn about $80,000 per year and, depending on which sport they participate in, have playing careers that last only five to ten years.
In recent years, the post-playing lives of numerous professional athletes have been reported and the news has surprised many who assumed that the income the players received while playing left them financially set for life. According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, “by the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce. Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.”
In 2009, the University of Michigan surveyed retired National Football League players and the results showed that ex-NFL players, ages 30 to 49, were twice as likely to live in poverty as were similarly aged men who, like the NFL players, had some college education.
The National Football League and the National Basketball Association, along with players unions, have programs to help their players transition from playing careers to their next steps.
The NFL has a Player Engagement division that provides resources to current and former players. According to their website, the “mission of Player Engagement is to optimize and revolutionize the personal and professional growth of football players through continuous guidance and support before, during, and beyond their NFL Experience.” They offer resources in career development, career transition, continuing education, financial education, and player assistance and counseling services.
The NBA begins preparing their players for post-playing careers right from the beginning. They have a Rookie Transition Program in which incoming players learn about financial planning, health management, and more. The NBA also strives to teach players about the business of professional basketball so that players can begin to think about roles they could have with the association other than “player.”
Brian Mitchell played fourteen seasons in the NFL and is the NFL’s second all-time leader in total yardage, second only to Jerry Rice. Mitchell is the rare athlete who had both a successful playing career and a successful post-playing career (in television and radio). While he was with the NFL, Mitchell saw mistakes his fellow players were making with regard to their futures. Now he speaks with groups of athletes—current players, retired players, and aspiring players—and offers guidance about how to manage their reputations and their finances so that they too can have long and successful careers. If you’re interested in booking Mitchell to talk with a group, email him at [email protected] or contact him by phone at 703-688-2399.