Going Broke: The Mistakes NFL Players Make and How to Avoid Them

Marc Lillibridge@NFL_BridgeContributor IOctober 11, 2012

With so many economic issues, everyone is trying to make a dollar go further. NFL athletes are no different. Having been on both sides of this issue as a player and now as an agent, I have seen firsthand how easily money comes and goes in professional sports. 

While shows like ESPN’s documentary Broke highlight the pitfalls of being a professional athlete, there are also many players who are smart with their finances. In NFL locker rooms all around the country, televisions are set to ESPN and NFL Network, but also to CNN and CNBC. 

Players care about their financial futures, and by heeding the following advice they should be able to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. 

One of the first concepts young players have to grasp is that most of their NFL careers will be short-lived and that they will not play in the NFL long enough to make millions of dollars. 

Most athletes get through college on Pell grant money or a small scholarship stipend. If they make the NFL as rookies, the base salary in 2012 is $390,000. Most players look at that number and think they are set, when in reality they will be lucky to get about half of that after taxes.

For example, adjusting to the cost of living in New York City after moving from Columbia, Mo., is a hard lesson to learn. Products just cost more. Most players struggle with the cost-of-living adjustment and are amazed at how quickly their bank accounts dwindle.

Another major issue for athletes are the expectations from family and friends. I have heard horror stories of parents telling their son that they expect to retire now that he has been drafted. 

The NFL player needs to provide for his parents like they provided for him. 

Family members expect free flights, free tickets, free jerseys, helmets and NFL gear. Saying no to family is very hard and players are "guilted" into spending money they should be saving.

NFL players work hard to make the league and want to enjoy the spoils of their success. But trying to “keep up with the Joneses” can be expensive and cause lots of financial heartache. 

When a young player first signs with a team, he looks in the parking lot and sees BMWs, Mercedes and even Maybachs. Maybe he dreamed of having those cars as a kid, and he may believe that he “needs” that ride now. Most of those cars are driven by players who have already made big money and can afford them, but some guys who buy them are trying to front and act like they have more cash than they do.

Pride is an evil mistress in a NFL locker room, and trying to have the best house, the best suits and the most cars can get expensive and frivolous. 

Some of the best advice I ever heard was from a veteran who blew through his rookie contract on “toys” and was fortunate to have seen the error of his ways. 

“Why did I need more than one car anyway? I can only drive one at a time,” he said. 

This lesson applies to owning houses as well. Players need to live within their means and think long-term as opposed to short-term.

Most players are not taught good spending habits growing up and never learn these lessons in college. There are not many colleges or universities that offer life skills courses on how to manage credit and be a wise investor. I have known players who had no idea what a credit score was. That is why hiring a competent financial planner who can teach you and make sound investments is important.

As an agent, I cannot and will not offer financial investment advice to my clients. No investment is risk-free, just like no one financial adviser is great for every player. I recommend each player interview multiple firms to find the best fit.

As an agent, I advise my clients on many topics, but I do not play for them, so ultimately their career is their responsibility. The same principle applies to their money. 

I use this example when I talk to players: You would never just walk up to a stranger, hand him your child and say, "Take care of this for me.” You would ask for references; you would talk to other people this person has done childcare for; you would take every precaution to ensure your child's safety. The same rules should apply to your money.

There are too many horror stories of people from all walks of life losing their fortunes. Even if a person tries to live frugally, life and loss can still happen. 

But if a player is smart financially, any loss will be minimal, and he will not end up the subject of a documentary about how he went from rags to riches, then back to rags again.


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