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Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

4 common retirement pitfalls of NFL players

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Most National Football League (NFL) players make a lot of money during the course of their professional football careers — but many go on to make financial decisions that leave them with less money than they started with. Consider Vince Young, who made almost $30 million in 2011 and then declared bankruptcy in 2014.

On the other end of the spectrum are players that have decided to finish their college education, and end up working for this industry. Case in point: Steven Kreiderformer wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, who was named CIO at Western & Southern Financial Group Inc. last May.

While we sing praises to those that have invested their assets well and have been smart about leaving a solid legacy to their loved ones, we also want to learn from the mistakes others have made that are now wreaking havoc on their retirement dreams. These examples can be good anecdotes to use when explaining retirement strategies to clients. 

reggie williams football

1. Unexpected medical bills

Just like Beyoncé’s “Bills” song, some retired NFL players keep seeing medical bills pop up, either for ongoing treatment or for new health complications related to previous injuries. According to an article published last year in The Washington Post as part of their “Do no harm” series, “the NFL’s health insurance lasts five years after retirement” and players who lasted “fewer than three seasons don’t qualify for it at all.”

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the ongoing health and disability battles that these players suffer after being productive in the football field. In the meantime, NFL retirees are still footing the bills.

The lesson: For the non-NFL players out there: no one knows what your future health is going to look like. You can take care to maintain a healthy lifestyle and body, but your genes might have other plans. There should always be a health fund in your retirement piggy bank, for all those unexpected aches and pains. Make that clear to your clients.

Former Dartmouth linebacker, Reggie Williams, speaks after being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Foundation’s awards dinner in New York, Dec. 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)


2. Difficulty adjusting to life as a retiree

After the fanfare and the lights at the stadium fade and everything goes quiet, many former football players fill their days with volunteering, starting their own non-profits, helping local teams achieve greatness, or broadcasting and game analysis. Others simply watch TV on their couches. Some of them, like Tiki Barber former player of the New York Giants, find it hard to adjust to a new and quieter life.

An article that we published late in July discusses the difficulty of tranisitioning to retirement, which can lead to depression and even suicide. Although it has not been confirmed, many suspect that the suicide of former linebacker Junior Seau in 2013 was due to concussion-related problems, which can make a difficult transition even more challenging. 

The lesson: Take care to really listen to your clients and advise them to seek help should you feel they’re in a “funk” for too long. All stages in life need a readjustment period, particularly when the change is extreme. 

terrell owens

3. A short accumulation period

The span of a footballer’s productive career is just four seasons, on average. Some estimates show that rookie players can start earing almost half a million dollars, a sum which will increase exponentially if they have a successful career. However, this leaves footballers with a short amount of productive years, which is why it’s very important for them to plan their whole life financially.

For example, Terrell Owens, a pro who holds several NFL records and who played for 15 seasons, reportedly earned more than $80 million, which is long gone. Other players have faced federal charges for tax fraud and even identity theft, or have struggled to pay for child support.

According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated study, 78 percent of NFL retirees have “gone bankrupt or are under financial stress.”

The lesson: Financial planning is for everyone. If the greatest NFL athletes have fallen victims to their own wallets, what’s to keep your client from falling himself? Better have a plan in place and a trusted advisor to guide you through.

Seattle Seahawks’ Terrell Owens pulls on his helmet at the start of NFL football training camp on Aug. 8, 2012, in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren).

patriots dolphins

4. Living in the now

Think back to when you were 18: If someone was to come up to you and talk about planning for retirement, what would have been your reaction? Possibly laughter or “there’s plenty of time for that.” The reality, of course, is that retirement is not that far away, particularly if your prime earning years are limited.

Football players start training early and join a support network of coaches, family, friends, fans, a team and other advisors that help them from the beginning. Players thrive on focusing on every play and every move. But when that structure is no longer there, they can start to feel lost. This usually happens after they are no longer playing.

The lesson: Football is like life: when you’re young you have a great support network of family, school teachers, mentors and other advisors. But when you become an adult, you’re expected to carry on by yourself. This can seem daunting when the person is not well educated in certain areas, like finance. Millennials can have all the resources they need at the click or swipe of a finger, online, but they may also not know who to trust, where to look and how to process and put all that information into practice. This is where financial advisors should step in.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola) 

See also:

4 reasons to use a trust to preserve assets

What Bill Walsh can teach advisors about success

The 6 biggest estate planning mistakes NFL players make


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