Maybe it didn’t surprise you, but a March 23 article in Sports Illustrated by Pablo S. Torre astounded me.
Titled “How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke,” the piece revealed the following:
• By the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.
• Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60 percent of NBA players are broke.
• Numerous retired major-league baseball players have been similarly ruined, and the current economic crisis is hitting some active players as well.
It long has been no secret that many professional athletes mishandle their money or fall prey to others either stealing it or throwing it away under the guise of helping a jock “handle” his wealth. But the percentages presented by Torre in his SI article made me gasp. Too much too soon? Boy, do those figures substantiate that notion about so many sports figures.
First time I realized that naive, gullible and good-hearted athletes can be financially ruined by leeches and hoods was when boxing legend Joe Louis wound up as a doorman at a Las Vegas casino just to make enough to eat and clothe himself. He encountered one tax problem after another trying to extricate himself from his constant money morass. Despite all his ring achievements and World War II military service, Joe became just another down-and-outer unable to pay his bills.
But Louis and athletes of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s never were favored by the incredible contracts that were to come. Remember when Alabama quarterback Joe Namath signed that “obscene” $400,000 contract with the New York Jets in 1965? Joe was one of those high rollers who got taken time and again. No matter how much he made, he was always having trouble because of the willingness of his “buddies” to take care of him.
Then there are those sexual disasters where the Shawn Kemps and Travis Henrys seem bent on becoming the fathers of their country, with innumerable kids they never really support, or whose mothers they never marry, or help.
Kansas University’s famed Wilt Chamberlain never married. Friends say a big reason was he noted how many of his basketball acquaintances got wiped out by castoff females and was determined not to fall into the same trap. Far as we know, he never did.
Superstars like baseball’s Brooks Robinson, Rollie Fingers and Tony Gwynn, football’s John Unitas and basketball’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had massive money troubles. There’s always somebody trying to get a hand in a celebrity’s pocketbook, and the success rate for such raids is incredible.
KU has had some touch-and-go stories for ex-jocks, although I know of nobody peddling pencils on the street corner. KU currently has 11 NBA guys making all the way from Darnell Jackson’s $442,114 to Paul Pierce’s $18,077,903 per year, and we can only hope they are dodging the crooks, scam artists and nutty family types.
Maybe the guy laughing the hardest is Greg Ostertag, who in 11 years in the NBA had a salary total of some $48.5 million. Evidence is he’s managed it well, even if he never was a major headliner. Gotta admire him for that.