Bankrupt NFL Players – The Hall of Shame

I recently met Jerome “The Bus” Bettis at a conference.  For those non-football fans, he was drafted in 1993 and played running back for 13 NFL seasons with both the Rams and the Steelers.  He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2015.

During his presentation he talked about his upbringing in the early 1980s on the rough streets of Detroit.  He shared about how he got into serious trouble as a youth.  His powerful story about turning his life around was both moving and inspiring.  He answered a few audience questions about how the NFL is currently addressing player injuries.  The part I found most interesting is when he spoke about how the NFL is dealing with another problem – the majority of NFL players going broke early in their retirement.  Perhaps, I thought, there is something to be learned for everyone from this.

I researched some facts on the problem, so let’s start there.  Sports Illustrated reports that “by the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players will have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.”  That means out of the 53 players on an NFL team roster, about 40 of them will wind up having financial troubles.  When you consider the average NFL player is making about $2 million per season, these stats are pretty alarming.  For example, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Warren Sapp, made $82,185,056 during his career and ended up with $826.04 in his bank account.


Many experts point to a variety of reasons this occurs.  They include a lack of competent financial planning advice, divorce, lack of awareness of how rapidly a career may end, lack of preparation for a second career, and how players often tend to support family and friends.  While many of these reasons might make sense, none of these reasons are completely unique to the NFL.  Let’s face it, anyone can get bad financial advice, get divorced or have family members that drain their resources.  The correlation of these reasons does not mean they are the cause.  Many people get divorced, but they don’t end up bankrupt.  So what gives?

When testing a hypothesis, scientists experiment and make observations to determine if their observations confirm or conflict with their hypothesis.  So here’s a real world observation that is in agreement with the NFL player problem – around 70% of lottery winners are broke within a few years of collecting their winnings.  That statistical correlation is pretty high, isn’t it?

So perhaps the phenomenon in both of these instances – an NFL player going from being a broke college kid to making $3.5 million a season and a person earning $45,000 a year winning a $45 million lottery – is the sudden jump in wealth.  Is the money itself the problem?  Is this where the saying “money is the root of all evil” comes from?  Let’s look a little further.

I think we can all agree that money itself cannot create problems – money problems are created by people.  So perhaps the problem is when a person receives a large sum of money, relative to what they had previously, the person still has the same beliefs, emotions, intentions, history and thoughts that they had before their new found wealth.  Since people’s actions are consistent with their beliefs, emotions, intentions, history and thoughts, it is almost certain that their actions would be consistent with who they were before the wealth showed up in their lives.  Acquiring sudden money does not alter who you are, and perhaps that’s precisely the problem.  Maybe when people say “money won’t change me” they are saying exactly the wrong thing.  If a person doesn’t change their ways of being and acting after acquiring their newly found wealth, their actions will almost certainly lead to the money passing through their hands, thereby taking them right back to their original level of wealth, or lack thereof.

So what’s the take away?  Start to inquire how you are with money.  Do you have a way of being with money that leaves you powerful and free?  Are you able to say with confidence that you won’t end up like 78% of NFL players who are financially stressed during retirement?  In my 35+ years of serving as a trusted advisor, the most successful people I’ve worked with are those who take the time to discover what actions they need to take now to envision and create a secure future for themselves and their families, before it’s too late.

Blog Extra:  I know that I may have confused some of you when I say “who they are being” so perhaps an example, although in a different sphere, might help.  Twelve years ago this weekend, my wife Beth and I welcomed our first child, Alexa, into the world.  We got married two years before that.  So in a period of about twenty-four months, I adjusted “who I was being” a few times – from being single, to being married, to being a father.  It didn’t change who I was, but my ways of being and acting adjusted along the way.  For instance, I noticed that I immediately became a safe driver when driving home from the hospital with our newborn in the car.

I could have added inheriting a significant amount of money to the list of sudden money events above.  The proper use of a Trust, when leaving children significant wealth, is something to consider.

And lastly, the actual verse about money is: “For the love of money, is the root of all evil.”

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