“Washout” is a term often used for the athlete who is a highly sought after in college or high school player, makes it to the pros, but for one reason or another never has much success at the highest level, and “washes out” of the big leagues, ending up in minor leagues or as a civilian. Being a “washout” is understandable. There is no reason to be ashamed about that. Simply being selected as a professional athlete at the highest level of sport is an honor and a privilege, and making it to this level is nothing short of a monumental task. The hard work, dedication, and sacrifice that it takes to become a professional athlete is beyond the experience of most people.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll be using the term “washout” or any derivative of the term in the context of LIFE, the biggest game you’ll ever play, the real big leagues. The end of a career is one thing; it happens to people all of the time. Ending up broke, in debt, at a job that you don’t want, after having made more money and connections than most people can hope for—that’s washing out. With some awareness, planning, counsel, and education, you can avoid ending up where so many athletes do, and save yourself and your family a lot of heartache.
Even before your first game as a professional athlete, you’re expected to take on a tremendous amount of responsibility. Practices, critical gametime decisions, autograph signings, and press conferences are only some of them, and then there’s everyday life: friends, family, girlfriends, bills, investments, etc. With so much responsibility, it’s easy to see, among other things, why so many players end up in financial strife. Built up pressure needs a release, and it often comes in the form of fast cars, women, houses, partying, and lavish spending. None of these things are inherently bad, but when you spend more time at the strip club than you do planning for your financial and personal future, you’re on a crash course with disaster.
We’ve all heard the stories of, or know personally, athletes who have made millions and then lost everything within a few years. Let the following examples and facts be your wake up call; they are examples of what can happen if you don’t take start planning and taking responsibility for your future, now, while you’re still on top of the world…because that won’t last forever; and neither will your money if you’re not careful.
Let’s take the example of Clinton Portis, a two time NFL Pro Bowl running back who played nine seasons between the Redskins and Dolphins, had 9,923 career rushing yards, and was named one of the 80 Greatest Redskins of all time. In 2004, Clinton Portis signed what was then, the largest contract for a running back in NFL history: $50.5 million, including $17 in bonuses. Huge homes, expensive trips overseas, excessive spending, and being taken advantage of by shady advisors left Portis filing for bankruptcy in 2015. He owed over $1 million in taxes, gambling debts, and domestic support to four different women, with only $150 in his bank account. If Clinton Portis had spent less, kept tabs on his finances (including the people who managed his finances), and done some personal and monetary goal setting, he could have had his fun and ended a great NFL career with millions in his bank account, instead of washing out. Let Portis’ story be a cautionary tale.
Next, let’s take a look at some important figures. Sports Illustrated once estimated that 78% of NFL players end up bankrupt or under financial stress within two years after retiring The same article estimates that within 5 years after retiring, 60% of NBA players are broke. Think about that for a second. That means that most of the professional athletes in two of the largest sports leagues in the entire world end up broke. Those are gloom numbers, and something that you as a future, current, or retired athlete (or family member, friend of an athlete, etc.) should be seriously thinking about.
The average NFL career length is about 3.3 years, 4.8 years for the NBA, and 5.6 years for the MLB. Average salaries in the NBA are $7.15 million, $4.47 million in the MLB, $3.11 million in the NHL, and $2.7 million in the NFL. Cut these numbers in half to account for taxes and other expenses, and you are realistically looking at about just over half of the aforementioned numbers per year. You, as a player, can still walk away with a substantial amount of money, but you must be careful with your spending and investments.
So what’s a player to do? Start learning. Do you know the difference between a mutual fund and a hedge fund? You should. Do you know the ins and outs of your investment portfolio? No? You should. How about what you’re worth? In liquid and fixed assets? You’re probably getting the point. Or maybe you’re thinking, “that’s what I have a financial planner for.” Sure, advisors of all kinds are great, but if you have no real understanding of what they are saying to you, you could end up being taken advantage of. A little education will greatly increase your awareness of your options and your current situation. Ultimately, the responsibility for your life and finances lies with you, but seeking the advice of professionals is always a very good idea. And that brings us to our next point.
Get help. Find professionals who can help you set goals, both personal and financial, further educate you, and help you to develop new skills. Get a coach. You’ve had them your entire life, and you owe a very large part of your success to them. If you want to keep winning, find a coach who can help you create a clear path, a vision that will allow you to build upon the success and the resources that you already have. And naturally, if you have a coach you should also have a team, a group of trusted people (financial advisors, PR people, therapists, doctors, etc.) who can help you to to make the decisions that are right for you, your family, and your futures.
Just remember that this time you’re the boss, you call the shots, and you’re the ultimate decision maker. People will be available and willing to help, but YOU are the one who has to have the awareness of your current situation, the knowledge to make decisions and the skills to execute. You’ve got to wake up to the opportunities that you have and the missteps that you can avoid as a professional athlete. Learn what you have to and get the help that you need so that you can continue to thrive while you play and after you retire. Take responsibility for your future now, or risk washing out.