March 11, 2011
The Subway across the street from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building may have had the right idea in more ways than one — maybe the companies benefiting from their involvement with the NFL can give players on the wrong end of the wage curve a few free footlongs along the way?
We know, we know … you're all tired of the labor wars between the NFL players and owners. And quite frankly, we'd rather be writing about the draft and free agency than the ongoing back-and-forth going on in Washington, D.C. But where we might want to draw the line is in espousing the dispute as some sort of "millionaires-versus-billionaires" scenario.
Most owners may be billionaires on paper, but for every Tom Brady(notes) and Peyton Manning(notes) rolling in the cash, there are five rank-and-file players earning in the low six figures per year when the agents and taxmen are done with them. And such players could be in real financial trouble should a lockout ensue from the current labor talks.
According to Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post, the average player salary in 2010 was $1.8 million, but the rookie minimum salary is $320,000, and that average data is heavily skewed in favor of the few with huge contracts. And some young players are trying to spend as if that fat second contract is already in the bank.
The NFLPA has tried to help, advising players on how to save for leaner times if they happen, and there are a number of financial advisors keeping current players from avoiding the pitfalls that have tripped up many former players who live far below the line they enjoyed when they were thrilling thousands on every football Sunday.
Luther Elliss, who earned $11.6 million with the Detroit Lions from 2000 to 2004, filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and has recently relied on friends and local churches to pay his bills. Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, who pulled in an estimated $18 million during a 10-year career, lost much of it through bad investments. Mark Brunell(notes), now a New York Jets backup quarterback, filed for bankruptcy in June 2010 despite contracts that paid him $50 million during his career.
Hopefully, lockout or no lockout, the message will stick. Players have a limited window to earn, and most of them never come close to the kind of good fortune seen by the true stars of the game. That will be true even when there's labor peace, and the current strife should act as a wake-up call to all players.
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