Throughout the course of the NFL's lockout, fans took to labeling NFL players as greedy and overpaid.
Such labels are unfair and intellectually dishonest. Like any other urban legend, the myth that NFL athletes are overpaid can easily be refuted with basic research.
The first fact that must be understood is the reality that players such as Sam Bradford, who signed a contract including over $50 million in guaranteed money before ever taking a single snap in the NFL, are the exception and not the rule. According to data compiled by Bloomberg Business Week, the median NFL salary is $770,000, and the average length of an NFL career is 3.5 years.
In an interview with AOL Fanhouse columnist Greg Couch, Chapwood Investment managing partner Ed Butowsky estimated NFL player's take-home pay after taxes and agents' fees equals approximately 40 percent of their salaries. Given these numbers, some simple math can be used to estimate how long an NFL salary can support a person.
The United States Census Bureau lists the median household income in the United States as $49,777. For a player playing at the median NFL income for 3.5 years, assuming he takes home 40 percent of his earnings, he can live as if he's making an income of $49,777 for 22 years.
If a player graduates high school at 18, receives a college scholarship for a redshirt freshman year and all four years of college eligibility, he'll be 23 when he enters the draft. Assuming he earns the median salary (which, by definition, is more than what half the players in the NFL will make) and has an average-length career, he will be able to live off his money until he turns 45.
Of course, those estimates are the best-case scenario. A bad business investment or two could make a player's financial lifespan even shorter. Jets quarterback Mark Brunell filed for bankruptcy in 2010, while still a member of the NFL. While Brunell or any player with financial struggles is responsible for his own business decisions, the fact remains that bad investments do happen, and take a toll on players' bank accounts. Yahoo! Sports' thePostgame.com reported players from at least 16 teams had taken out loans in April due to the lockout.
In addition to money mismanagement, injuries are another factor that cuts into NFL players' earning potential. Although injured players still receive payment, NFL teams heavily weigh a player's ability to stay healthy into consideration when evaluating the player's value. Not only does playing time missed due to injury deprive a player of opportunities to showcase his talent and worth, it also reduces his value and increases the likelihood of his team releasing him before his contract is finished.
Per Bloomberg Business Report, 352 players ended the season on the NFL's injured reserve list. Injured reserve is separate from the team roster, so adding the 352 players on injured reserve to the 53-man rosters of each NFL team gives a rough estimate of 2,000 players employed by the league. In other words, one out of every six players in the NFL will suffer a season-ending injury that negatively impacts the value of his next contract.
Making a living after football is difficult as well, mainly due to sacrifices made in pursuit of an NFL career. The NCAA's 40-60-80 rule, which refers to the percentage of degree requirements athletes must have completed by the end of their second, third and fourth years of college respectively in order to remain eligible to play sports, leads to athletes choosing the easiest degrees possible.
Between the 40-60-80 rule and the time commitments college football requires, even football players who want to obtain meaningful education end up having to choose between football or a degree that will be useful in obtaining a job. Jobs involving manual labor are also often out of the question due to the toll an NFL career takes on the body.
Next time an NFL player demands more money, consider the above information before assuming he's being unreasonably greedy. NFL players have to amass as much wealth as possible while in the prime of their careers, because the money they earn from football needs to last a lifetime.
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