Sports Illustrated reported that 78 percent of NFL players are penniless within three years of retirement. Considering that the league’s median annual salary is $2.1 million and the average length of a player’s career is 3.3 years, the aforementioned statistic is astounding. Renowned sports agent Leigh Steinberg, who served as the inspiration for Tom Cruise’s character in “Jerry Maguire,” wrote an article in Forbes that detailed the five primary reasons why so many NFL athletes go broke after shelving their cleats. Steinberg said that poor financial planning, supporting too many loved ones, lack of foresight, a sense of invincibility, and legal fees associated with divorce proceedings are the main causes for insolvency.
Former Seattle Seahawks defensive back Willie Thomas, who studied finance at Penn State, experienced minimal success in the NFL. Contrariwise, Thomas has prospered off the gridiron and he now works as a director at a Merrill Lynch office in San Francisco. Thomas explained during an interview with Forbes what he believes empties his past colleagues’ bank accounts.
"The biggest mistake in my mind is the excessive spending, and we do it see it from time-to-time,” said Thomas.
“We hear these really exotic stories. So the biggest mistake is when players who come into a lot of wealth and want to now brand themselves, whether it’s a restaurant they want to buy into, risky investments, a golf course membership. I would say the second biggest mistake is, we do have this great ‘family hood,’ if you will. We want to take care of our family and our friends. But what tends to happen is, we begin to bankroll and add many excessive dollars that otherwise should be going to our savings or a financial plan.”
While respecting the input provided by Steinberg and Thomas, let’s review 15 NFL stars from the 1990s who lost everything.
15 DAN MARINO
Dan Marino is possibly the most talented signal-caller in the annals of professional football. Marino, who the Miami Dolphins took with the 27th pick in 1983, torched every secondary he faced. The 1984 NFL Most Valuable Player completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 420 touchdowns and 61,361 yards over 242 games as a Dolphin. Regrettably, like so many other individuals on this list, an unsuccessful business endeavor depleted his earnings and caused him to file bankruptcy. According to a WPEC report, the failed enterprise was Digital Domain Media Group and Marino was its main shareholder.
"One of the biggest shareholders in the company is former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who is listed in bankruptcy filings as owning 1.6 million shares,” read the WPEC’s report. “From the high to Tuesday's closing price of 55 cents, his holdings have lost $13.6 million in value."
14 CHARLIE BATCH
Charlie Batch was a middling quarterback and heinous real estate developer. Batch, a two-time Super Bowl champion who won the 2006 Jerome Bettis Award for Humanity and Community Service, retired as a Pittsburgh Steeler in February 2013 following 15 seasons in the league. Over a decade and a half as a Detroit Lion and Steeler, Batch collected a sum of $9 million in paychecks. Apparently using the money he gained on the field, Batch established a development company. Batch ultimately defaulted on roughly 25 properties and, with $8 million in debt and only $2.3 million in assets, he filed for bankruptcy in December 2011. Fortunately for the longtime backup, many of Batch’s debts were discharged later that year in bankruptcy court.
13 MUHSIN MUHAMMAD
Muhsin Muhammad was primarily an elite wide receiver in the NFL for 14 seasons. Muhammad, a two-time Pro Bowler and 2004 first-team All-Pro, was chosen by the Carolina Panthers with the 43rd pick in the 1996 draft. Muhammad caught 860 pigskins for 11,438 yards and 62 touchdowns in 202 games as a Panther and Chicago Bear. For his feats on the gridiron, Muhammad earned a total of $20 million. Nonetheless, the former Spartan was sued by Wachovia for nearly $25,000 in unpaid credit card bills shortly after he called it quits in 2009.
"You think you're going to be on top forever,” said Muhammad, 44. "There was some debt run up by a family member and I was a guarantee on it.”
Thankfully, Muhammad rebounded from his financial woes and now serves as a co-founder of a private equity firm.
12 TIKI BARBER
Tiki Barber is the most decorated running back to ever play for the New York Giants. Barber, a three-time Pro Bowler and member of the New York Giants Ring of Honor, carried the ball 2,217 times for 10,449 yards and 55 scores in 154 games with Big Blue. The 1996 ACC Player of the Year abruptly shelved his cleats in 2007 at the age of 31. Despite amassing $35 million as a professional, Barber was unable to afford a divorce settlement with his wife in 2011. Moreover, because he cheated on his wife, the “Today” show fired him as a correspondent for violating the morality clause in his contract.
"I realized how fast the opportunities disappear," said Barber, 42. "You've been replaced on the field and you've been replaced in people's minds. That's when you start getting depressed."
11 RAGHIB ‘ROCKET’ ISMAIL
“Rocket” Ismail was such an explosive Notre Dame Fighting Irishman that Sports Illustrated selected him to its “Team of the Century” in August 1999. Ismail vacated South Bend as a junior and declared for the 1991 NFL Draft. In a stunning move, rather than becoming a Dallas Cowboy with the top overall pick, Ismail signed with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts for $18.2 million over four years. Although Ismail flourished north of the border, “The Rocket” decided he wanted to perform in the NFL. Ismail subsequently enjoyed nine productive seasons as a Raider, Panther and Cowboy. Alas, questionable inventions and risky investments caused “The Rocket’s” financial portfolio to explode.
“I was so busy focusing on football that the first year was suddenly over," Ismail, 47, said. "I'd started with this $4 million base salary, but then I looked at my bank statement, and I just went, What the. . . ?"
10 WARREN SAPP
Warren Sapp overpowered, and embarrassed, offensive linemen as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Sapp, drafted by the Bucs 12th overall in 1995, was a four-time first-team All-Pro who was named the 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The mouthy, and seemingly unlikeable, Hurricane was also a member of the league’s 1990s and 2000s All-Decade Teams. As one of the most indomitable defenders of the modern era, Sapp pocketed $60 million for his achievements on the gridiron. Including owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support to four different mothers, Sapp accrued a total debt of $6.7 million. Consequently, Sapp filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April 2011.
"Do you think I wanted to declare bankruptcy?'' Sapp asked rhetorically. "Do you think if there was any other way possible I would have done it? It was either this or go to jail. Those were my choices.'”
9 MARK BRUNELL
Mark Brunell was one of the more productive quarterbacks in the NFL across much of the 1990s. Brunell, a three-time Pro Bowler who led the league in passing yards in 1996, made $50 million competing for the Packers, Jaguars, Redskins, Saints and Jets. Somewhat sadly, widely lauded as a solid human being, Brunell was sacked by a slew of unwise investments. The quick southpaw filed for bankruptcy in June 2011.
“After much deliberation and many years of shouldering an enormous amount of debt resulting from passive real estate investments, it has become clear that this is the only viable course of action,” said Brunell, 46, who cited debts of $24.8 million compared to assets of $5.5 million. “The timing of the group’s real estate acquisitions at the height of the real estate market, in hindsight, clearly was not good, particularly given the subsequent collapse of the economy.”
8 LUTHER ELLISS
Despite earning in excess of $11 million as an NFL employee, former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Luther Elliss went bankrupt five years after he retired in 2005. Elliss, a two-time Pro Bowler who competed for the Lions and Denver Broncos, was doomed by excessive spending and unwise property deals.
"At this age and this level, you feel like you're Superman. You feel invincible," said Elliss, 44, who the Lions took with the 20th pick in 1995 out of the University of Utah. "I think guys are a little hesitant (to ask for help) just because nobody wants to admit that they don't know. Nobody wants to admit that they're not Superman -- that there's Kryptonite out there. I talk about not being prideful. A lot of my demise came because I was prideful.”
7 DERMONTTI DAWSON
Pittsburgh Steelers icon Dermontti Dawson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012 for his stellar work as a center. Dawson, a six-time first-team All-Pro and member of the 1990s All-Decade Team, was a fixture on Pittsburgh’s line until he retired in February 2001. Using the $25 million he made as a Steeler, Dawson tried to become a real estate developer. However, his attempt backfired and he declared bankruptcy in 2010.
“Today’s real estate market and economic conditions, plus the fact that Iown non-controlling minority interests in the entities which own the real estate, left me with limited options,” said Dawson, who listed $69 million worth of liabilities against less than $1.5 million in assets. “I certainly wish things had turned out differently and look forward to continuing my contributions to this community.”
6 BERNIE KOSAR
Bernie Kosar is debatably the most beloved quarterback in Cleveland Browns history. Kosar, a two-time Pro Bowler, banked $19 million as an employee of the Browns, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins. Kosar’s fortune disappeared due to foolish investments and the costs of a nasty divorce.
"I couldn't quit on my kids. I'm not a quitter,” Kosar said about the suicidal thoughts he battled.
"I got here with hard work. I'll get out of this with hard work. No wallowing. No 'woe is me.' I'm great at making money. And, as we've found out, I'm great at spending it. What I'm not great at is managing it."
The 53-year-old Kosar didn’t quit and he’s been trying in vain to help Johnny Manziel, hoping he doesn't go down a similar dark path.
5 LAWRENCE TAYLOR
Lawrence Taylor is arguably the preeminent defensive force in NFL history. The New York Giants selected the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Taylor out of North Carolina with the second pick in the 1981 draft. Taylor immediately thrived in the swamps of Jersey and won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1981. The badass Virginian, a 10-time first-team All-Pro and 1986 Most Valuable Player winner, redefined the linebacker position and was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame in August 1999.
“Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I've ever seen,” said John Madden. “He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers.”
Although long beset by substance abuse and legal issues, Taylor’s situation worsened following his retirement in January 1994. LT, who earned approximately $50 million over 13 seasons with Big Blue, filed for bankruptcy in October 1998.
4 ANDRE RISON
Andre Rison was a standout wide receiver throughout much of the 1990s. Rison, a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time second-team All-Pro, was also a notoriously disruptive locker room presence. Therefore, "Bad Moon" Rison was a journeyman who worked for the Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders before essentially getting jettisoned from the league following the 2000 season. The beloved Michigan State Spartan pocketed approximately $19 million over his 12-year NFL career. Alas, Rison was fiscally undone by excessive spending and hefty child support payments.
“When you have cash, you create debt,” said Rison, 50.
“You spend until you’ve got nothing left. I should have saved a lot more money. I should have saved a lot more money.”
Rison filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2007 and he was indicted in 2011 for failing to make child support payments.
3 MARK INGRAM SR.
Erstwhile New York Giants wide receiver Mark Ingram made one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history in January 1991. With the Giants and Buffalo Bills engaged in a tight battle, Ingram caught a pass from Jeff Hostetler and subsequently eluded five defenders to gain a crucial first down. Ingram’s gutsy effort helped secure Big Blue’s 20-19 upset victory over the Bills. Ingram served as a reliable threat for the Giants, Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles until retiring following the 1996 campaign.
Upon shelving his cleats, the distinguished Michigan State Spartan’s life spiraled downward. With funds at a minimum, Ingram chose to support himself by partaking in illegal activities. Ingram was eventually caught and sentenced to seven years in prison for money laundering and fraud offenses.
"It hurts me to my core," said Ingram, 51. "I made mistakes. This is not who I am.”
2 TERRELL OWENS
Terrell Owens is an obnoxious man and he was an even worse teammate. Still, Owens was an incredibly dynamic wide receiver. Owens, a 6-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro selection, compiled 1,078 receptions for 15,934 yards and 153 scores as a member of five NFL franchises. The insufferable, arrogant and borderline delusional Owens banked in excess of $80 million for his performances as a pro. Alas, Owens’ riches vanished due to idiotic business ventures and fathering four children with four women.
"This is not an ideal situation having four kids by four different women," Owens, 43, told Dr. Phil. "I don't have no friends. I don't want no friends. That's how I feel."
Owens is moneyless and friendless and he created this predicament. Amazingly Owens has yet to ever announce his official retirement.
1 IRVING FRYAR
Irving Fryar was a skillful NFL wide receiver for 17 seasons. Fryar, a Nebraska legend who the New England Patriots took first overall in 1984, was a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time second-team All-Pro. Irving recorded 851 catches for 84 touchdowns and 12,785 yards as a member of the Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles and Redskins before walking away in February 2001. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the lifelong scofflaw returned to crime soon thereafter. Fryar was convicted of conspiring to defraud banks out of more than $690,000 and he received a five-year prison sentence for his actions.
"This is not a case in which Mr. Fryar and his mother simply omitted or misstated information on loan applications," acting state Attorney General John Hoffman said. "This indictment alleges that they engaged in an elaborate criminal scheme that was designed to defraud these banks of hundreds of thousands of dollars."
A 53-year-old Fryar was released from the pen in June 2016.
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