Professional athletes are compensated particularly well for their abilities, and even those earning the least money in any professional sports league are usually still getting a salary well in excess of six figures. The combination of youth and sudden wealth is not always the best combination, and there are countless of examples of athletes spending their first million dollars on frivolous purchases.
It should be no surprise, then, that many professional athletes wind up bankrupt within a few years of retirement, and there have even been cases in which a professional sports team has had to garnish the salary of a player in order to help the player pay off outstanding debts. Even though many sports leagues now hold clinics and symposiums for players regarding wealth management, it is still hard to resist the temptation to spend that newfound wealth on something completely extravagant.
Many athletes fall prey to family and friends who see the athlete as a limitless supply of money, while others simply cannot keep their spending in check and constantly treat themselves to expensive dinners and nights out on the town. Not all athletes are guilty of wasting their money, as there are also a fair share who immediately put their earnings into low-risk and long-term investments or use their money to support a worthwhile charity. There are many different manners in which athletes spend their first million, and what follows are 15 of the more interesting things that athletes do with that first paycheck.
A big paycheck means big taxes, and, surprisingly, many athletes don’t realize just how much of their check is going to be lost to taxes. Andre Rison, former Atlanta Falcons receiver, was furious when he saw that his first paycheck had money taken out of it because he had no clue about the nature of taxes. According to Rison, in an article from mlive.com, “The first time I got my check and I saw there was a big chunk taken out of it, I went straight upstairs (to the team office) and that’s when I found out about taxes and everything.” Rison is not the only athlete to have had this issue, as former Detroit Lions cornerback LaMar Campbell, after receiving his first paycheck, once asked a veteran teammate, “Who is FICA and why is he getting some of my money?"
— Jeremy Hill (@JeremyHill33) July 13, 2014
While there was a time when tattoos used to be reserved for outlaws and sailors, they have become a major part of popular culture and certainly the culture of professional athletics. Tattoos are so prevalent in professional sports that it almost seems as something of a prerequisite for making it as a professional athlete. Many have full sleeves and other tattoos that tell their story of making it to the pros, but Bengals running back Jeremy Hill used the whole of his back to honor the path he took to the NFL. After receiving his first paycheck, according to TheScore.com,Hill made a trip (or, given the size of he piece, multiple trips) to the tattoo parlor to honor the time he spent at LSU.
13 Sports Memorabilia
It’s safe to assume that most professional athletes grew up watching the sports they would ultimately play, and many rookies end up playing with and against some of their childhood idols. It is common in professional sports for young players to ask these opponents and teammates for autographs, just as it is common for athletes to ask for the autographs of sports legends who happen to be in attendance at a particular game. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, whose first minor-league paycheck was for the whopping sum of $250, spent all of his earnings at a charity auction on a baseball signed by Reggie Jackson, who Pedro had remembered was “the only one who could pimp a homer back in those days.” While Martinez's indulgence was relatively minor, there are countless examples of athletes going overboard, buying game-used equipment from some of the greatest athletes ever.
Oversized and expensive watches are a necessary accessory for most athletes, and it certainly isn’t a shock that athletes drop some serious coin on wrist apparel. In the case of Johnny Manziel, he happily spent a sizable portion of his first paycheck treating himself to a gold Rolex, which, of course, was the perfect accessory for his Heisman trophy. Never one for humility, Manziel then posted a photo of his new Rolex-wearing trophy to Instagram, because what’s the point in spending all of that money if you never show it off?
11 Exotic Animals
Athletes have a long history of purchasing strange and exotic animals. Mike Tyson famously owned a triumvirate of endangered white Bengal tigers and Gilbert Arenas spent a hefty sum on taking care of the sharks that he kept in his home. Brent Burns has his own reptile zoo, and there are countless other examples of athletes blowing their paychecks to keep some very strange companions around. Of course, the spending doesn’t stop with the initial purchase of the pet, as Donn Roach of the San Diego Padres spent a significant amount of his rookie earnings on clothing and other accessories for his French bulldog, as can be seen on his wife's Instagram account.
Boats are notoriously bad investments, and the “Break Out Another Thousand” acronym exists for a very good reason. That doesn’t keep athletes from buying or renting them, however, and James Harden of the Houston Rockets threw a very elaborate party on a massive yacht in celebration of his birthday. Rookies are not immune from the lure of the open water, as Mark Sanchez was among the many rookie athletes to make such a purchase, though his was not quite a yacht, but instead a fishing boat that he gave to his dad.
9 The Entourage
Professional athletes, for good or ill, seem to frequently be in the company of a professional entourage. These hangers-on make a living off of the earnings of their childhood friend or acquaintance, often running menial errands or even serving as financial advisers. In the case of former NBA All-Star Gary Payton, his rookie entourage included a marketing representative and a press secretary, part of an arrangement that led a Seattle Times writer to note, in this article, that“Payton's money circulates enough to have a blood pressure.” While Payton’s entourage was kept in check by a pair of lawyers who oversaw the operation, other entourages are often not managed all that well. Boxer Oscar de la Hoya, for example, trimmed $400,000 a year in expenses simply by disposing of several members of his entourage.
Financial flexibility makes it very easy to make travel arrangements for a quick vacation to nearly any locale, and professional athletes often spend their offseasons on tropical islands to recuperate from a long season of wear and tear. In the case of rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, he felt it necessary to take a break from the grind of training camp for a quick jaunt to Las Vegas. Of course, he faced a great deal of criticism – not for spending his money in this way, but rather his time. Irked by the criticism, Manziel posted a photo of his playbook via social media to show that he was balancing his responsibilities while living it up in “Sin City.” If only there was a picture of Manziel studying his playbook in between hands at the blackjack table.
7 Family Debt
Many athletes who come from poverty also come from the extreme debt that poverty can create. When a lucrative professional contract is finally signed, one of the first things that athletes try to do is to pay off the family debt that has accumulated over the years. In the case of Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Tyron Smith, that was among the first things that he wanted to do, saying to his family, “Use this money to pay off your house, pay your debt and be free of all that stuff," as can be seen in this article from ESPN. Unfortunately for Smith, this initial expenditure led to paying for much more than the family debt, and he became frustrated by the constant requests for frivolous gifts from family members.
6 Charitable Endeavors
Not all rookies waste their money the moment they get it, as some are shrewd enough to put their money into trusts or other sound investments. Others find a cause that is worthwhile and donate the first professional money they earn to a worthwhile charity. Such was the case with Colin Kaepernick, who gave some of his rookie money to his adopted parents and asked that it go to charity, according to MercuryNews.com. The charity the Kaepernicks chose, CampTaylor, was founded to help children dealing with heart issues, and the 49ers quarterback has become increasingly involved in the charity since that first donation made in his rookie year.
5 Private Parties
Once that first contract has been signed and the money is in hand, it only makes sense that a celebration is in order. Some rookies take out some select friends and family for a nice dinner, while others take things a bit further and throw a private party that maybe isn’t so private. In the case of, yes, rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, far too much of his rookie salary was spent on parties, and one of those parties even resulted in the team suspending Manziel’s troubled teammate, Josh Gordon. Over the course of the rookie’s debut season, Manziel was seen partying in a variety of locales, including Vegas, Miami Beach, Houston and Aspen.
4 House for Mom and Dad
Many professional athletes try to first do right by their parents, acknowledging the love, support and sacrifice made by family to help them reach their professional goals. A lot of athletes come from families that did not have a lot of financial flexibility, so getting their parents a dream house is often the first thing that an athlete will spend money on. Marcus Smart, the young Boston Celtics point guard, said before receiving his first check from the C’s, “I’m going to buy my mom a new house back in Dallas.” He delivered on that promise, and he certainly wasn't the only athlete to do so. Jadaveon Clowney, the first overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, said in an interview with Jimmy Fallon of the Tonight Show that he also intended to buy a house for his mom.
3 Jewelry for Their Significant Others
Andre Rison once estimated that he spent over a million dollars just on jewelry throughout his career, Dez Bryant has been sued multiple times for failing to pay outstanding jewelry bills, and former NBA player Marquis Daniels once had a custom-made necklace of his own head made by a Beverly Hills jewelry shop. While it’s unclear whether Daniels intended to give this odd item as a gift or simply wear the most immodest piece of jewelry ever, many rookies take their first paycheck and use it on expensive jewelry for their loved ones. In the case of Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron, he used some of his rookie money to buy an engagement ring for his then-girlfriend (now wife) Katherine Webb.
It should come as no surprise that professional athletes often spend heavily on brand new and flashy cars, sometimes buying multiple high-end vehicles for different purposes. In fact, many professional athletes talk about how competitive it can get amongst teammates, with many trying to constantly “one-up” each other by showing up to practice or games in the flashiest new ride. It is often the one thing that rookies focus on when they get their first paycheck, and recent NBA draftee Julius Randle opted for a Porsche Panamera after being taken 7th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014 NBA Draft.
1 Their Own House
Despite the fact that professional athletes live very unstable lives due to constant travel and the possibility of being traded or released, the first thing that they often buy is a house, and it’s frequently of the large variety. Antoine Walker, one of the more famous cautionary tales of athletes going bankrupt, detailed his own personal experience, saying, “the first thing we want to do is get the big house,” before explaining that the house was certainly not the only purchase he would make, in an interview with ESPN.com. Walker burned through a lot of his money buying cars and homes throughout his career, but it was the gambling and the lack of financial knowledge that ultimately cost him his fortune.