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Why Pro Athletes Go Broke

Ethan Miller / Staff

There has been much discussion and debate about why professional athletes go broke. Frequently, we hear the stories of multi-millionaire athletes having serious financial challenges during and after their pro sports careers.

An article written numerous years ago in Sports Illustrated gave some sobering statistics about pro athletes and bankruptcy, including an estimate that 60% of NBA are broke within five years after retirement and 78% of NFL players have gone bankrupt within two years out. Former boxer, Michael Tyson, still remains the epitome of this discussion, blowing through an estimated $300 million from his pro boxing career and is especially mind-blowing when you realize this amount is larger than some countries' Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the total value of goods and services provided by that country for the whole year.

But Tyson is not alone as countless articles are written about who is broke almost every week. Often, I am asked about this topic, off the record and on, and I usually give the same answer which is, 'I don't care how much money someone makes... if you take a 90% pay cut, that's a major lifestyle change, and most of the time athletes are not prepared for it.' Factor in the fact that this athlete also goes from being 100% on the company's dime for food, travel, and other support for six months out of the year to now being home year round and paying their own food and travel out of a substantially diminished income.

I've had former athletes often mention the irony of the fact that they receive free cars, clothes, and other luxuries when they are making a hefty income, but those gifts go away when they are not. One must also consider the fact that one's spouse goes from seeing him on a regular basis only six months out of the year and suddenly everyday when the sports career is over while experiencing a major income loss, which is probably why there is an 80% divorce rate among athletes (not simply from the infidelity you hear about in the news).

In his book titled, "Winning the Money Game: Lessons From The Financial Fouls of Pro Athletes" former NBA player, Adonal Foyle says, “Lots of players are having ­financial trouble, but they won’t talk about it. There’s a lot of fear,” Foyle says. “Guys are vilified. They’re waiting to see who goes into the lottery of going broke.”

We owe it to our brotherhood and society to have this conversation, in a really raw way

Of course, it’s not a lottery, a game of chance. Pro athletes go broke due to a constant series of bad decisions, and seemingly no amount of cautionary tales — from Tyson to Iverson to Holyfield to William “The Refrigerator” Perry — can stop them. This is a discussion Foyle hopes his book will help break open. “We owe it to our brotherhood — and society, too — to have this conversation, in a really raw way,” Foyle says. “We all make bad decisions over the course of our career. The question is: Do we learn from it? Or do we keep doing it?”

The question is: Do we learn from it? Or do we keep doing it?

"100% of professional athletes ultimately experience job termination." - K. David

My hope and prayer is for continued conversation among athletes about this topic.

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