Life after pro football

May 10, 2012

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Fresh-faced rookies are scheduled to report Halas Hall Friday for mini-camp. Many presume rookies spend that time practicing, running drills, watching film and memorizing the Bears playbook—and there will plenty of that to be sure. But rookies will also receive some much-needed career counseling and financial planning advice. The average NFL career is between three and four years; that’s a frequently-cited statistic. In spite of that, most rookies enter camp, chests puffed, with the mindset that they’re going to be a 10-year-plus player. And in many ways, they have to think that way; to compete at the professional level, against other topflight athletes, they have to believe they’re superheroes, super human—indestructible.

The reality is that many will not make it through their first season—most will not make it more than a few years beyond that. And every player’s earning potential and long-term health will likely be stunted before their 30th birthday. The recent suicide of Junior Seau accelerated ongoing discussions about the various physical, emotional and financial difficulties associated with life after pro football. Many NFL players are idolized and worshipped and paid handsomely—for a time. But like it or not, these young men enter the league with an expiration date. Imagine starting—and finishing—your own career by the time you were 26 years old. Better still, imagine winning the lottery at 22 years old and making that money last.

According to Sports Illustrated, 78 percent of NFL players and 60 percent of NBA players file for bankruptcy within five years of retirement. Most people are appalled by that figure. But there's really no fair comparison—unless, does anyone have numbers on 20-something Mega Ball winners? On young investment bankers who made it big—and made it last?

Former Chicago Cub and baseball analyst Doug Glanville spent nine years in the Major League. He recently wrote about the difficult transition to retirement following Seau’s death. He reminds readers that more often than not, a player does not arrive at his new destination willingly. And asks, if years playing ball are supposed to be the best of your life—what is there to look forward to?

 

“When leaving the game, most players have spent countless hours and years denying their emotions to be able to perform: I am not hurt; I am not tired; I do not have doubt; I do not need drugs; I do not feel empty. NFL warriors don’t embrace vulnerability. Accepting those feelings is like having one foot out the career door, but counter to the culture, it is the key to having a reciprocal relationship with a spouse or a child,” Glanville wrote.

Filmmaker Billy Corben was shooting a movie for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series on the University of Miami football program when he interviewed former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar. When they met, Kosar showed up with some very stressed-looking business associates. Less than a week later, the front page of the Miami Herald featured a story about Kosar declaring bankruptcy.

Corben, like many of us, wondered: how the hell does anyone blow that much money? So he started digging. Corben just recently screened his second ESPN film venture, Broke, at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film features vulnerable confessions from retired stars, detailing the various drains and strains on their bank accounts.

Corben joins Steve Edwards, former Chicago Bear and Super Bowl champion Emery Moorehead and Steven Rogers, the Gordon and Llura Gund Family Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management where he also runs the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, about the reality of life after professional football on Thursday’s Afternoon Shift.