401K's for Football Players: Why More Needs To Be Done

Sam SnyderCorrespondent IJune 29, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 25:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell waits onstage at  Radio City Music Hall during the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25, 2009 in New York City  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

You would think that after retiring from professional, life is great. Big houses, fast cars, lots of money. But that life is reserved for the big names, names like Dan Marino, Michael Strahan, John Ogden, Tiki Barber, Jerome Bettis, Troy Aikman, and other similar big-name players.

Welcome to the darker side of NFL retirement. Health problems, arrests, drug problems, bankruptcy, and gambling.

Someone like Dan Marino has his retirement set, broadcasting gigs, endorsements, commercials—he's good for life. But let's take a look at the average offensive linemen's retirement. Average, I'm not talking about John Ogden or Matt Birk, but some no-name second stringer.

He gets paid the average for O-linemen, $850,000 a year. Pretty good right? Let's say he plays 10 years. That's $8,500,000 over his career. Hot damn! Normally, he wouldn't have that much at the end of his career because he gets paid yearly, and there is no way he can spend $0 each year, but this is hypothetical.

Now there are factors in this equation that the retiree can control, and others that he can't control, let's go over the stuff that is in his hands.


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No more NFL means no more drug tests! So he goes to town, and buys all the weed he can. Now, weed is NOT going to kill you, it is certainly unhealthy, but is not going to ruin your life. BUT, in this world, one thing leads to another, and he gets into more hardcore drugs, cocaine, ecstasy, prescription painkillers and sedatives, and more.

Now he is in real trouble. Use of ecstasy slowly builds deposits of calcium in the user's brain. Cocaine is highly addictive, as are painkillers (just ask Rush Limbaugh). Cocaine increases blood pressure dramatically, which isn't good for someone the size of a lineman.

Add that high blood pressure to unrestricted eating habits, and you have a recipe for heart disease.

Drugs also bring troubles with the long arm of the law. Now he is getting arrested, and serving stints in jail. Jail isn't good, he has to pay court fees, and his health is deteriorating quickly.

Now through all the health bills, fines, court fees, and drug payments are catching up to him.

Speaking of money, what else is he going to do other than spend it on drugs? Spend it on excess of course! Cars, clothes, houses, any thing money can buy, he has.

But that is catching up to him, too. He can't afford to pay his taxes, bills, loans and mortgages and any other expense.

In short, he has ruined his life. Technically, it's not the NFL's fault. But they can do more to help, and I'll get in to that in a bit.


There are several things that the retiree can't control, mostly involving health complications from his tenure in the NFL.

O-line is a tough position to play, you have to be big with lots of muscle. But the one downside is the physicality of the people you play against. Many former linemen suffer chronic joint pains, weak and fragile bones, shoulder problems, and upper body bone disease.

But what happens to all that muscle? Well folks, here is a little science lesson. In turns to fat, and fat isn't always a good thing. When 310 pounds of muscle deteriorate into fat, your health goes down with it.

Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are the biggest problems resulting from the deterioration of muscles.

But one thing that happens not related to health is that the player runs out of money. Not because he blew it on drugs or gambling, but because his pension is so poor.

Some people need structure in their lives to keep them out of trouble. Lawrence Taylor and Michael Irvin are good examples. They both were lured by vices, and paid the price with drug addiction, financial and legal troubles. But as soon as the NFL did something to help, they turned out OK.

Flawed plans

The NFL has basically the same plan as the government, where age of retirement means everything.

Former Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure gets paid $992 a month. In today's economy, that is barely enough. It could be worse, but it is simply un-American to be unable to give fair pension because he retired at age 45.

While the average person who retires at 60 gets $3,000 month, a football player gets less simply because his career ended early. The NFLPA does nothing to help retired players, only current players. Why? Because they sign their paychecks (figure of speech).

What can be done to stop these effects?

The NFL has moved in the right direction, but more needs to be done. They currently have initiated a program similar to Step Down programs for athletes, to help with the withdrawal from physical lifestyle to an unstructured and sedentary lifestyle.

This has reduced the amount of health complications from their tenures in the NFL, but more needs to be done financially. There needs to be an overhaul, where age of retirement is eliminated, and where the NFLPA can give the players enough money to get by on their basic expenses.

If the NFL doesn't act now, then more and more retirees are doomed to financial, drug, and legal problems. The NFL makes $25 billion on TV deals alone.

If some of that can be spread to the retired players in need of help, then the quality of life retirees can be improved.

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