It seems like professional athletes have it made. They get to play a game for a living, and they get paid a whole lot of money to do it.
But statistics show that they don't have it made. In fact, very few of them are able to manage their money effectively after they first hit it big—the phenomenon exposed by ESPN 30 for 30's new documentary Broke.
The film, which aired on Tuesday, tracks athletes such as Bernie Kosar, Andre Rison and Cliff Floyd, all of whom had a lot of money at one point and all of whom found themselves in dire financial straits not too long after achieving success.
So how does this happen? How do athletes who are paid millions of dollars each year—and who also earn extra money from endorsement deals, public appearances and more—end up broke?
Actually, in truth, it happens far more than you think. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Bob Wolfley, Broke director Billy Corben got the idea for his film when he read a statistic in Sports Illustrated claiming that "60 percent of NBA players and 78 percent of NFL players are broke five years after retiring."
That's a huge number of NFL players. If that statistic proves accurate, four out of every five NFL stars don't know how to manage their money and their lifestyles according to their salaries.
In the NFL, it's easy to see how this happens. There are a whole lot of players and very few stars in the league, and the discrepancies in their salaries are huge. A guy like Ron Brace, who's making $770,000 per year, isn't going to be living the same lifestyle as Peyton Manning, who makes $18 million.
But thousands of dollars can seem like a lot of money at first—if you maintain the same lifestyle you had prior turning pro, which very few athletes do. And maybe some professional athletes just can't imagine that money ever running out, until it does.
Perhaps when they begin their pro careers, athletes are unaware of just how quickly things will add up. Perhaps they spend too much too soon, and their finances just spiral out of control, and soon, it's too late. Perhaps they sustain career-ending injuries that rob them of their incomes and before long, they're left with nothing.
Or maybe, as the official ESPN 30 for 30 press release puts it:
Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders and saddled with medical problems, many pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life.
The more you think about it, the easier it is to comprehend how and why this happens. For one thing, as Corben suggested on a conference call via the Journal-Sentinel's Wolfley, athletes often want to provide for their families because their families provided for them so long.
Or, fueled by the praise and adoration emanating from fans, athletes believe they can invest in anything and they will achieve success—even if they have no experience in the particular ventures they are investing in, as Corben explains. That's why you see so many athletes dumping their money in restaurants, or even video game companies, only to be shut down within a year.
As Broke helps to illustrate, it's clear that this isn't something that happens once in a while. This isn't a phenomenon that pops up in the news every once in a while, when someone like Curt Schilling goes bankrupt. This is happening a lot—far too often—and it's a problem.
Maybe professional athletes aren't living the high life as much as we thought they were. Or maybe, if they are living the high life, they should take things down a notch.