Quarterback Flacco’s $120.6M Deal Perpetuates Unrealistic Fable

The U.S. is in a time of budget cuts, reduced social services, and high unemployment. Some professional athletes aren’t feeling that hurt, however, as evidenced by quarterback Joe Flacco’s $120.6M/six year deal with the Baltimore Ravens.

Or are they?

According to Billy Corben’s 2012 documentary, 30 for 30: Broke, professional athletes are burning through their money faster than they can earn it. The film cites a Sports Illustrated report that revealed that 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are financially stressed after two years of retirement. Given that the average NFL career lasts just under three and a half years, that’s a wide swing from nothing, to everything, to nothing again in a short period of time.

Raven's Joe Flacco Image: © Jason Pohuski/Cal Sport Media/ZUMAPRESS.com

The NBA isn’t much better. According to the same SI report, 60% of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement.

One thing that lures kids and their parents into chasing the holy grail of sports is the hope of fortune. Who wouldn’t want a chance to score several or a hundred million dollars for a few years of work? It sounds like a dream come true, almost like winning the lottery. In fact, professional athletes who receive enormous contracts are often compared to lottery winners because of their quick and excessive spending.

True, the chances of winning a big-money lottery are lower than cashing in on a spectacular sports career, but not by a number that means very much. Each year, though, kids set their sights on being pro ball players and their parents do, too. According to the NCAA, in 2012 there were approximately 308,000 high school seniors playing football. From that pool, there were just over 17,000 NCAA freshman positions. Of that group, each year only 250-260 college athletes are drafted into the NFL. That gives a high school football player a .0008% chance of going pro.

Let’s say the high schooler is still completely convinced of his ability to play pro football. The average NFL salary is about $1.9 million a year. That’s the average, though. When you add in salaries like Joe Flacco’s new deal, that means a lot of guys are making a lot less than the average.

Despite the reality that most professional athletes make far less than we’re led to believe through commercials and lifestyles, families are still willing to sacrifice everything to get that ultimate paycheck. Often, families hire trainers, send their kids to exclusive camps, buy them the best equipment, and otherwise pay for the chance to make it in the big show.

However, as Billy Corben’s film shows, that ultimate paycheck is a fable for all but a handful of players. Not only does the income potential not last long, because of injuries and sports politics, but many professional athletes are unprepared for instant millionaire status and tend to spend unwisely, ultimately leading to the high number of bankruptcies cited by Sports Illustrated. By offering contracts like Flacco’s, sports franchises are sending out a siren song to kids who would be better served by studying and choosing a career with more longevity.

Now would be a great time for parents to save money on personal trainers. Instead, they can focus their kids on long-term academic achievement over long-shot Hail Marys. In the end, kids’ expectations of themselves will be more realistic and they will have a great chance of success in their (second) favorite career.

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