Financial Woes Loom for Unprepared NFL Players

By Paul Hirsch


One of the oldest stories in sports is the one about a once-well-paid athlete facing financial ruin at the end of his playing career. Another version of that story is playing out now as a result of the NFL lockout 2011.

Casual fans may not be aware that players are paid thousands of dollars to show up for workouts at team facilities in the offseason. Players are also missing out on roster bonuses, free agent signing bonuses, and various conditioning incentives. And, in preparation for the NFL lockout 2011, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) withheld royalty checks players are used to receiving for video games and football cards that display their likeness.

Not surprisingly, that missing money has exacerbated the typical players’ difficulty in managing his money well and is leading to financial woes for those who did not prepare, despite the sustenance checks the union is distributing from the withheld royalties.

According to Fox Sports, 958 of the 2,032 players who were on an active roster for at least one game last season qualify for the maximum $60,000 that will be offered starting April 15. The other 53 percent of those players will be limited to lesser amounts.

NFLPA player representative and ex-Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said even athletes who are earning large salaries may have struggled managing their finances.

“It’s no surprise pro athletes are not the best at saving money,” Hillenmeyer said Thursday. “Certainly, some guys do a better job than others. Everybody in professional sports makes a good living. The league minimum (salary) in all leagues is substantially more than the average American makes.

“I don’t expect any fan to feel bad. NFL players making $300,000 a year (the rookie minimum) should be able to live on it until next season starts.” Another blow, though, to the players’ financial welfare as a result of NFL lockout 2011 is that their health insurance premiums are no longer covered.

In a recent survey of health benefits through the COBRA organization estimated that a family policy is around $2400 per month. Normally during this off-season time the team that the player plays for would normally cover the health benefits. However, due to the NFL lockout 2011 all players are now required to fund their own health benefits which could be problematic.

The problem that arises in regards to these health benefits is that many of the football players apparently did not budget correctly, have not been paid or are ineligible for health benefits. The biggest concerns are for first-year players as they have not received any of their pay yet and are not eligible for COBRA since they have not started playing.

What are the solutions for those who did not plan for NFL lockout 2011? In some cases agents are lending clients up to $100,000. In other cases, financial advisors are opening lines of credit to help see players through this period. Those without collateral or strong credit ratings may face interest rates of up to 24 percent.

Borrowing just keeps players on a financial hamster wheel. It seems that pro athletes making $2 million can’t resist living like they’re making $4 million. And when the music stops and they cannot find a place to play either due to the end of their career or the NFL lockout 2011, they are unable to cope without an income to which they have become accustomed and that most Americans will never see or even dream about.

Should we feel sorry for that?

Hirsch is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.

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