A few weeks ago, I came across a story about a former NFL receiver by the name of Antwaan Randle El, who had a successful 9 year career with the Steelers and Redskins and made tens of millions of dollars. He played in 2 Super Bowls and collected 1 ring with Pittsburgh in 2005. Now 36 years old and retired since 2010, he questions whether or not it was worth it. As a result of numerous concussions and massive hits, he reports trouble going up and down stairs as well as some degree of memory loss. His ailments will only get worse as he gets older.
As I have posted in my Odds of Being a Professional Athlete post, you need freakish athletic ability to play in the NFL. If you were to invite the top 1/10 of 1 percent to camp, you would have to be a standout among THAT group to even stand a chance and must be better still to stick around long enough to retire comfortably and collect a pension. Stay in school.
The closest I came to knowing a professional athlete on a personal level was a guy named Tyler Reed, who graduated 2 years behind me in high school. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears and spent 2 years on the practice squad but never cracked the active roster. He was a shot putter for the track team in high school so I knew him casually but not well. Even at 16, he was already 6 ft. 5 and nearly 300 lbs. One time at a dual meet, he asked the coach if he could run the 100. The coach casually said “Yeah, go ahead.” Reed shocked everybody by finishing at the front of the pack in a time under 12 seconds.
I’ve never played organized football before but did play a few pick-up games of tackle football in high school. I’ll tell you that when a guy about 50 lbs. heavier than I was running toward me at full speed, I did not try to bring him down. I backed away and it was a good call. Now just imagine being run over by a 300 pound man who can run 18-20 mph then getting up doing it again and again.
Sadly, the outlook is often grim for retired NFL players. In addition to brain and bodily injuries, former players face a very high rate of divorce and I just read an article that stated that a staggering 78 percent are broke within 5 years of retirement. Still, surveys show that the vast majority would play if they had it to do over again. Would I do it if I had the talent to make an NFL roster? Yes, but I’d know when to quit. Skills begin to diminish around 28 or 29. Five years of that type of punishment is plenty and a career in baseball is highly preferable. I’d buy a nice but not terribly opulent home, a car in the class of say a Mercedes, not a Lamborghini and maybe a beach house in Orange Beach. Much would be spent on world travel but a good portion of the money would be kept in the bank.
What can be done about the physical pain? While the concussion protocol is a good start, playing such a violent game at a high level is inherently risky and it is almost certain that if a player had a lengthy career, he will have chronic aches and pains. I am a big believer in prolotherapy for connective tissue injuries. Former receiver Hines Ward has also raved about it. I’m less sure about treatments for brain injuries but do believe that at least some relief can be obtained through mineral balance or other natural treatments.
The biggest thing the NFL needs a comprehensive life skills training program that must be required for all players. Imagine being a superstar all of your life with more “friends” than you know what to do with and can date anybody you want. Then all of a sudden at the age of 30, you are a big fat NOBODY. I’ll bet most of my readers cannot even remember who won the Super Bowl 5 years ago. I know it was Green Bay but cannot name more than 3 players out of the 53 on the roster. Unless you are a long-time Steeeler or Redskin fan, you’ve probably never heard of Antwaan Randle El. Former players who were not All-Pro/Hall of Fame caliber cannot leverage their fame into long-term endorsement deals. Some can get decent paying coaching jobs but the majority will not be associated with football in any capacity in retirement. Get your degree from college.
Players often go out on the town with a large entourage and leave will a bill of 4-5 figures every week and that lifestyle cannot be maintained once the income is cut off. However, the most frequent culprit of financial problems is child support payments. I read that a few players have fathered up to 10 children by 8 or 9 different mothers. Keep your pants on, fool! This won’t be politically correct but the women who deliberately allow themselves to be impregnated are just as much to blame. The mother can collect up to $8,000/month per child ($96K/year for 18 years) if the player has a long-term multi-million dollar contract. In most cases, the mother has no intention of a long-term relationship with the father. That’s not good for the child either and I can cite numerous statistics about children who grow up without a father or at least a male role-model. Somehow, I doubt that every penny of that upper-middle class level income is spent feeding and clothing your child. I would support a cap of $2K/month per child especially if there was never a long-term relationship.
Bottom line, retirement doesn’t have to be so hard with a little bit of wisdom, other job skills, morality, injury precautions and better treatment for long-term injuries.