From rags to riches and back to rags again. It’s a cautionary tale all too common among NFL players who aren’t properly equipped to manage the wealth they earn while playing in the league or deal with their newfound fame. Without any experience with that kind of cash or training on how best to invest, players oftentimes end up drowning in a sea of debt when they leave the league and the money stops rolling in.
It’s easy to see how it happens. They go from zero income while playing college ball, straight to the pros, where they’re cashing weekly checks that have a string of zeros at the end just waiting to be spent on things they’d never been able to afford before. Plus, those playoff and performance bonuses make for some nice little windfalls.
Before they know it, NFLers can get consumed with material belongings. They own three big houses, four cars, a fleet of jet skis and gaudy, expensive jewelry without so much as a dime set aside for the future. Then, the property taxes, the maintenance bills and the loan repayments start piling up just in time for the end of their playing days, and they end up broke as a joke with nothing but useless luxuries and a mountain of debt.
Here is a list of 15 of those poor souls who never saw it coming and are now poorer than even you.
Bernie Kosar, former Cleveland Browns star quarterback – and one of the last good things to happen to the Browns, if we’re being honest – managed to lose all his money after his career had ended, due to a series of very bad decisions.
Throughout his playing days, he earned around $19 million, all said. But since he left the league in 1996, he has put himself into several bad situations that have drained his bank accounts and put his estate deep into the red.
He got gypped by his financial advisors, got cleaned out by an ex-wife in a nasty divorce, made some bad real estate investments and got way behind on taxes and loans.
By 2009, Kosar had a mere $44 to his name, a $1,175 monthly income, $9.2 million in assets and $18.9 in debt, which forced him to declare bankruptcy.
Before he had even retired from the NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch was tossing bucketloads of cash here and there, trying to strike it rich in the real estate business. Honestly, it would have been a better use of his money than if he had bought up lavish toys and pointless belongings, but he didn’t do all of the homework that he should have. That, and the Great Recession screwed him.
By 2011, it was revealed that Batch’s assets were worth around $2.3 million, but his debts had soared to nearly four times that amount. He was defaulting on loans and lost a slew of properties because he couldn’t pay the mortgages. As a result, he, like Kosar, had to file for bankruptcy, and he nearly even lost his Super Bowl rings he had won with the Steelers.
“The Refrigerator,” William Perry, was a big, friendly, congenial guy who played for the Chicago Bears during their 1980s heyday and in their Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots in 1986. He earned his keep with massive endorsement deals, advertising gigs and, of course, by being the enormously effective defensive tackle – and sometimes fullback – that he was.
Perry began to fall on hard times, though, sometime in the mid-2000s after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a chronic inflammation disorder of the peripheral nerves. Additionally, he continued to struggle with his weight and admitted in 2011 that he was an alcoholic, a diabetic and dead broke.
With mounting medical bills and debt to the IRS, he auctioned off his Super Bowl ring and survives on around $14,000 a year – a monthly social security check – while living in an assisted-living home in his native South Carolina.
This isn’t the Heisman Trophy-winning Mark Ingram who plays running back for the New Orleans Saints you’re probably familiar with. Rather, I’m talking about his father, a former first-round draft pick out of Michigan State by the New York Giants who’s best-known for his game-winning touchdown when the Giants beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXV in 1991.
His fall from grace came after his 1996 retirement. With little income and his funds all but dried up, the elder Ingram turned to crime to try and survive. Unfortunately, like most criminals do, he was eventually caught and was sentenced to seven years in prison for defrauding the IRS and for his part in a money-laundering scheme. He was also fined over a quarter of a million dollars, which only added insult to injury.
Speaking of New Orleans Saints running backs, Deuce McAllister went from hero to zero fast after bad investments drained his funds and less than a year after retiring from the league in 2008.
After earning somewhere around $70 million during his eight-season career, McAllister started up a Nissan dealership in Jackson, Mississippi near his hometown of Ludlow. Long story short, things went bad for the former two-time Pro Bowler, and he ended up over $7 million in the red with his house seized by the authorities and a $1.8 million lawsuit from the bank he owed mortgage money to.
His dealership was forced to close and file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009, and he then battled a lawsuit filed by Nissan Financial after they claimed it defaulted on payments and exceeded credit limits. Nowadays, McAllister is a public speaker as he works to get back in good financial standing.
Despite retiring in 1993, former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor carried right on with his hard-partying lifestyle, spending a fortune on drugs, alcohol and even prostitutes. He claimed later in life that at one point, he was spending thousands of dollars a day on narcotics.
He also lost a lot of money when his company, All-Pro Products, lost all its value on the market. And to make things worse, Taylor pleaded guilty in 1997 to tax evasion and was sentenced to house arrest, probation and community service.
After trying out the film industry and starting another company, it seemed Taylor was back on his feet, but in 2009, he filed for bankruptcy, got arrested for leaving the scene of an accident and then got himself into even more trouble the following year for engaging in sexual acts with a minor. Yikes.
They say raising kids is expensive, but apparently Travis Henry missed that memo. That, or he’s never heard of a condom. Either way, the former running back, who played for Buffalo, Tennessee and Denver between 2001 and 2007, has fathered an incredible 11 children by 10 different women and is now paying the price – literally.
Without his steady NFL income, Henry went broke trying to keep up with the almost $200,000 per year that he owed to all his baby mamas in child support, and was even arrested in 2009 for missing several large payments.
Naturally, Henry turned to drug trafficking to bankroll all of his children’s clothes and meals, got caught, and in 2009, was sentenced to three years in the pen for financing a multi-kilo cocaine-dealing operation.
When he clocked his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February 2014, Ray Rice instantly set in motion his rapid decline into financial distress. Once the video surfaced, his career was terminated, cutting off his massive cash flow and eliminating around $10 million more that he was scheduled to earn.
On top of that, his endorsement deals with Nike, EA Sports and Vertimax went down the tubes, leaving him with no income whatsoever. Though he did have some money in the bank, he faced a mountain of legal fees, still owed on his possessions, and still had to pay taxes. Like the adage says: earn big, spend big. The problem was that Rice was still spending big despite not earning anything.
Talk about being in the hole. Quarterback Mark Brunell, after earning around $50 million in 17 seasons playing for Jacksonville, Washington, New Orleans, New York Jets and Green Bay between 1994 and 2011, found himself deep in debt after some very bad investment decisions left him high and dry.
Like others on this list, Brunell, under bad advisement, tried his hand in real estate. He also invested in at least 11 Whataburger franchises. None of those business ventures turned a profit. In fact, not only did they not pan out, they failed miserably, forcing Brunell to declare bankruptcy in 2010, listing around $5 million in assets and nearly $25 million in debt.
He’s now coaching high school football in Jacksonville, where he lived during his playing days with the Jaguars, for much less money while he tries to regain his financial footing.
When he was found guilty of bankrolling a dogfighting ring in 2007, Michael Vick lost over $130 million in the long-term deal he had signed with the Atlanta Falcons, millions of dollars in endorsement and sponsorship deals and tens of millions more in legal penalties and bonus repayments.
Before his crimes came to light, Vick had purchased multiple million-dollar homes, expensive cars, overpriced jewelry and was supporting several friends and family members financially.
He predictably filed for bankruptcy in 2008 but did manage to return to the league with a $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. By 2015, he had clawed his way out of bankruptcy, but after paying off the remainder of his debts and with a fraction of his income that earned him $120 million during his playing days, Vick is on a much more normal financial track. He now runs football camps for kids and recently launched a new clothing line.
If his on-field antics were any indication, the flamboyant wide receiver, Terrell Owens, lived large during his playing days, spending nearly all of the $80 million he earned in the league between 1996 and 2010, leaving him basically penniless now that he’s in the real world of personal responsibility.
Though he counts them as investments, Owens bought several homes and condos before the housing crash, and their values ended up basically hitting rock bottom. Add to that at least four baby mamas seeking thousands and thousands in child support every month and the fact that he put his trust in several people he shouldn’t have, and Owens had to take a low-paying job in the Indoor Football League while making random media appearances just to try and put a dent into his monthly bills.
Who knows? Maybe the one-time starting running back for the New York Giants is doing better financially these days, but somehow I find it unlikely. Despite making over $25 million throughout his 10-year NFL career, Tiki Barber’s infidelity and the fact that he was unable to continue to live within his means after his football money stopped coming in caused him to fall out of good financial standing, leading to his admission that he was broke.
When his wife of 11 years was just about ready to pop with twins in 2010, Barber left her for 23-year-old homewrecker Traci Lynn Johnson, an intern at NBC, where Barber had taken a broadcasting job. After NBC fired him, Barber had trouble coming up with the cash in the divorce settlement, and then the child-support bills started rolling in.
If ever there was a model for how not to handle your newfound fortune and fame, JaMarcus Russell would be the poster boy. Beyond the fact that he is easily one of the biggest draft busts in the history of the league, Russell was an absolute train wreck when it came to the decisions he made off the field.
He was the first-overall draft pick by the Raiders in 2007 and signed a massive $61 million contract. But as soon as the money started rolling in, Russell basically stopped trying, though he certainly kept spending.
The Raiders ended up releasing him in 2010, and not long after, he found himself in trouble when caught with un-prescribed codeine. Quickly falling on hard times and unable to pay for his massive Oakland mansion, Russell fell way behind on his mortgage, and in desperation, wrote to all 32 team owners offering to play for free. Predictably, no one bit.
In 2014, Vince Young filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy seven years after blowing through the more than $35 million he earned during his six-year NFL career. According to his former financial adviser, Young somehow managed to spend cash faster than he earned it. He did reckless things with his money, like buying a $176,000 Ferrari with cash, dropping $300,000 on his own birthday party, buying out an entire Southwest Airlines flight and treating his buddies to expensive dinners and drinks at $6,000 a pop.
Of course – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – there's also the child support he owes to his four children’s mothers, as well as the millions of dollars in loans he’s behind on. Currently, he’s trying to make a gridiron comeback in the Canadian Football League, but I doubt that’s gonna make much of a dent on his financial obligations.
I’m betting Hall-of-Fame former NFL defensive tackle Warren Sapp thought it was cool at the time but is now regretting his expensive Bentley, his 240 pairs of Air Jordans, his 15,000 square-foot home and matching lion-skin rugs and his 33rd-floor Hollywood Beach condo. I bet he also regrets his bad business decisions, his arrests, the alimony and child support he owes monthly and his generally poor financial decisions during his playing career.
He filed for bankruptcy in 2012, listing over $6 million in assets and nearly $7 million in debts, so how he blew through his $82 million career earnings without saving or investing in anything worthwhile is just beyond me.
According to TMZ, he got out of bankruptcy in 2015, but he has since had to deal with some legal troubles, so it’s not looking good for him even if he's now back in the black.