There are a couple of ways by which a professional football player's life can "fall apart" after they retire. Speaking to the vast majority of cases, most athletes either suffer from health problems, familial disasters or run out of money. The medical and health concerns that result from physical contact on the football field are largely beyond their own control. The breakdown of families are a group effort but in most cases, the player is significantly at fault.
Finally, the money. Oh, good ol' money. They say money isn't happiness, but money is a one-way route to freedom and freedom is very close to happiness. No matter what, a copious amount of cash is a good start if you're looking to be happy. This shouldn't be news to anyone. But moving back to the topic of NFL players and their finances, while these athletes are great at making money, many have shown themselves to be very poor at keeping it. Talk to any financial expert, they will all tell you that equally important to making money is keeping it.
Keeping money is completely within anyone's scope of ability. It takes some discipline and a bit of education, but time and time again it seems that football players lack these two things. Between financial disasters, destroyed health, being abandoned by their families and other poor luck/decisions, here are some former football players whose lives completely disintegrated after their retirement.
20 Deuce McAllister
Dulymus "Deuce" McAllister took over as a commentator for a New Orleans radio station covering the team he played for eight seasons. He holds the Saints franchise record for most career rushing yards and is second in all-time touchdowns. He earned about $70 million over the course of his career, but was unable to hold on to much of that. He's in the process of putting the pieces back together (the budding broadcasting career might help) but a failed car dealership: Deuce McAllister Nissan, saw his business declaring bankruptcy and his house auctioned off a few years ago. The business and Nissan finance came to a settlement, but in 2013, they brought him to court again saying that he had yet to even start paying off his settlement.
19 Luther Elliss
Before we get to the real tragedies and stories of devastating post-football lives, we'll share a few more feel-good, "oh maybe they'll turn it around" stories. Former Lions Pro Bowl defensive tackle Luther Elliss had a very solid ten year career after being drafted out of Utah in the first round of the 1995 Draft. He had made around $11 million, but spent all of his money on businesses that never really took off. While a few guys on this list had vices, Elliss was a decent guy, charismatic and charitable. He just didn't keep careful track of his money and ended up losing a couple of houses.
He's since founded a church in Salt Lake City and this became a huge success, prompting the Denver Broncos to get him into their organization as a chaplain, helping players not only with their faith but also their investments and savings.
18 Andre Rison
A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Super Bowl winner (Packers in '96), and 10,000 yard receiver, Andre Rison spent his twelve year NFL career with seven different teams. He retired in 2000, after his performance had dipped consistently for three years. His life after football hasn't been a complete nightmare, but he has blown a lot of money. He started a football school and has coached at both the high school and collegiate levels, but throughout these ventures, he has spent more than his investments have yielded, which is definitely a way to lose everything.
Rison was in court earlier this year for not paying child support and testing positive for marijuana. He has fallen on hard times financially, but not to the extent of a few members of this list.
17 Chris McAlister
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time All-Pro Super Bowl winning corner who won a ring back in 2001 with the Baltimore Ravens, Chris McAlister once signed a contract worth over $50 million due to his exceptional play on the field for the Ravens. He was married, had a daughter and an absurd amount of money. What could wrong, right? As will happen in professional sports, McAlister's youth abandoned him and his talents started to plummet, and over time his finances went, followed by his wife, who at one point demanded $11,000 per month in child support. He hasn't played football since 2009 and has said that he had to move back in with his parents due to the strain of his financial troubles.
16 Bernie Kosar
The long time Cleveland Browns quarterback and arguably the last decent franchise quarterback they had (okay, Vinny Testaverde and Tim Couch had two and three decent years in Cleveland). He led them to more post-seasons since Otto Graham, who led the team in the 1940s and 50s. Remember that time when the Buffalo Bills were doing well but just kept losing Super Bowls? Well, Kosar's one year with the Dallas Cowboys saw him win a Super Bowl ring as a backup to Troy Aikman.
After his football career, he has suffered some health consequences connected to hits to the head and is believed to be suffering from a moderate case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He has also dealt with a great deal of financial strain. He was involved with many businesses that have gone bankrupt and at one point had twice as much in liabilities as he had in assets, leading to him declaring bankruptcy. He has also had a property repossessed over unpaid property taxes. He never got as deep into debt or had a complete meltdown like some members of our list, and continues to work with the Cleveland Browns (although there were some tough times between him and the franchise a few years ago).
15 Travis Henry
Taken from Tennessee in the second round of the 2001 Draft by the Bills, Travis Henry quickly developed a reputation as a mean runner, earning the starting job in his rookie season and achieving over 4,000 yards from scrimmage in his first three years with the Buffalo Bills. He went on to play for the Titans and Broncos but ultimately his career was cut short due in part to injury and a couple of drug related suspensions.
He's had family problems and legal issues since his final suspension which turned into a de facto retirement. Actually, it's hard to call what he's dealt with "family problems" because he's fathered over eleven kids with ten women and wasn't able to pay child support a few years ago. He's also spent some time in prison for trafficking cocaine; probably to pay his ridiculous child support bills, which totaled over $170,000 per year.
14 O.J. Simpson
This is one of the most well-known NFL post-retirement stories for all the wrong reasons. Don't get us wrong, he had a few decent years there. He was a broadcaster, had an acting career that wasn't anything to mock, but he had some memorable roles. We all know what happened, his wife was killed (probably by him) and while he was acquitted, he sold off everything he had to pay the resulting civil suit. He's been sued a few times by Ron Goldman's family since then and he was arrested a few times throughout the 2000s even before he was convicted of his now-notorious robbery/kidnapping in Las Vegas back in 2007. He's been a pariah since the early 90s and now he's in prison. He may get out in 2017, but that remains to be seen. People know what he's all about, life will probably be tough.
We'll admit it, while O.J. Simpson's life did completely fall apart since he retired, he most definitely brought it all upon himself.
13 Dexter Manley
One of the most feared defensive ends of the 1980s, Dexter Manley won two Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins in 1983 and 1988 and became the poster boy for the stereotype of the dimwitted student athlete. After his career ended he admitted, rather notoriously, that he was basically illiterate, despite having taken four years of university level schooling.
Off the field and outside of the classroom however, there was a cocaine fueled nightmare taking place that saw Dexter Manley in rehab many times, arrested four times and of course, in prison for two years. He's had a retirement that has been marred by run-ins with the law and a brutal fight that continues today against addiction.
12 Ryan Leaf
The most notorious draft bust in NFL history has usually been a title reserved for Ryan Leaf. We'll have to revisit the "biggest draft bust" debate in the near future depending on what happens with Johnny Alcohol Manziel. Oh, it was Johnny Football? Sorry, I guess I forgot that, pardon me.
But getting back to the trainwreck in question, Ryan Leaf was drafted second overall back in 1998 by the Chargers. He looked like something very special with Washington State in 1997, but was an absolute wasted uniform in his three years of NFL play with San Diego and briefly with Dallas.
He retired in 2002, and worked various jobs for a few years, including coaching quarterbacks at Texas A&M, but his life after football has been pretty bad. He married a cheerleader during his time with the Chargers, but they divorced in 2003. More recently he has been arrested for a few robberies and drug charges, spending two years in jail.
11 Terrell Owens
Here's a feel good story for those of you who want to marvel at the misfortune of one of the NFL's greatest ever villains. T.O. remains one of the greatest receivers ever to play the game, but his style on the field, between the incessant trash talk and touchdown dances, was one of a kind and earned him as many haters as fans.
Throughout the course of his 1,078 catch, 15,934 yard receiving career (good for sixth and second in all time receptions and receiving yards), his earnings were roughly $80 million. A few years ago, Owens was completely broke, telling judges he couldn't pay his child support. He's also been targeted by the IRS for not paying his
theft tax bill, to the tune of around half a million dollars. These days he's doing some modeling, so it seems like he's turning his life around. He recently tweeted what some fans took to signify willingness to return to the NFL for the Eagles.
10 Warren Sapp
An absolute warrior of a defensive tackle, Warren Sapp was a cornerstone of that ruthless defense that led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win in 2003.
He retired in 2007 and was named to the Hall of Fame in 2013, but his entire life has fallen apart since then, with some troubles with the law, including a charge for soliciting a prostitute, and a dropped charge for domestic battery. He lost his job as an analyst with NFL Network back in 2015, after being caught with a lady of the night. A few years ago, he was severely in debt, owing money to the IRS, to his ex-wife, and had unpaid property taxes and owed personal debts to several people as well. A few of his business ventures also failed, adding to his debt.
9 Lawrence Taylor
With over a thousand tackles, 132.5 sacks, two Super Bowls, ten Pro Bowls and an equal number of All-Pro designations, L.T. is a popular choice for the title of "greatest NFL defenders of all time." The outside linebacker was a feared tackler and a threat to put a quarterback on the turf every play.
He played thirteen seasons for the Giants and retired in 1993. We have all learned a lot about his NFL career since then, including that he was a heavy drug user during and after his playing days. While he is far more put together these days, his life was a complete mess for over a decade after his career. He went completely broke after a couple of businesses that went under and poor financial management, got married and divorced twice (now on his third marriage, which is bumpy), and has been arrested a couple of times for drug offenses and once for having sex with an underage prostitute.
8 Shane Dronett
While it may be kind of funny to read about rich people metaphorically vomiting money on nonsense and bad business ideas until they run out, the stories to come can be difficult to read. We're into the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) part of the list, wherein we see the nastiest way that retired football players' lives can be destroyed. Bankruptcy, family problems and crime are nothing compared to a gradual mental disintegration.
There are quite a few victims of CTE to go, but our first is defensive end Shane Dronett. Taken in the second round of the 1992 Draft by the Denver Broncos, he remained in the league until 2003. His career was respectable but unremarkable, as he could pass rush and stop the run adequately, but never with enough dominance to be called a star. He suffered a few significant injuries throughout his career, including an ACL tear that ended his career, but took a number of hits to the head that ultimately led to his demise. He last played in 2003 and seemed perfectly normal until around 2006 when, according to his wife, Dronett started to lose his mental faculties. He would wake up in the middle of the night with delusions of people attacking his property, he attacked people in public without provocation, and had severe paranoia and irrational thoughts. In 2009, he shot himself.
While it is becoming more and more clear that large numbers of NFL players suffer from CTE after their career, most don't get to this point. Most develop the serious symptoms later in life and, for many, it doesn't completely destroy their later lives (not to say it's ever pleasant) but for Dronett and a few others on our list, it devastates their very existence and leads to an early and tragic death.
7 Paul Oliver
While it took Shane Dronett about six years after his retirement to reach a state of misery that caused him to take his own life, former defensive back Paul Oliver, who played five years in the league, four of them for the San Diego Chargers, took his life just two years after his career ended.
He suffered from depression after retirement. His wife said that a major part of his identity was gone after his career ended and it was later determined that at just age 29, he was suffering from advanced stage CTE. One day, during an argument with her, Oliver brandished a .40 caliber handgun and shot it into the roof of their house before turning it on himself and ending his life. This was all in front of their two sons under age five.
6 Terry Long
A guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the mid and late 1980s and the early 90s, Terry Long missed out on the golden years of the Steel Curtain (mid to late 70s) and played on a very average team for most of his career. He violated the league's substance policy early in the 1990s and was suspended. He attempted suicide during this period. He served his suspension and re-signed with the team but was released a year after.
His post-NFL career was a mess and he was under suspicion of insurance fraud for burning down a business for insurance money. He had also been charged with fraud for the manner in which he bought that business. This, on top of the fact that his wife had left him, and that he suffered from CTE, contributed to a miserable state for Long. He drank antifreeze and died of ethylene glycol poisoning in 2005; not a pleasant way to go.
5 Dave Duerson
If you watched last year's Concussion, featuring Will Smith and Luke Wilson (why he was chosen to play Roger Goodell, we may never know), you may have been given the wrong impression of former Chicago Bears All Pro safety Dave Duerson. He is presented as aggressive, condescending, and insulting toward Bennet Omalu (the doctor played by Will Smith who discovered the prominence of CTE among NFL veterans). His family has claimed that Duerson was nothing like his portrayal in the movie and that he was unfairly targeted as a villain by filmmaker Peter Landesman.
Whatever the truth of this allegation, Duerson's final years must have been like living in a nightmare. While he had achieved some business success initially, he eventually found himself broke, with a family that was crumbling around him, not to mention his constant pain, troubled eyesight, and almost non-existent short term memory. Duerson shot himself in the chest at age 50, back in 2011. One of the last things he did was send a text to his family detailing his final request: donating his brain to research.
4 Andre Waters
Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters couldn't have much more in common with Dave Duerson. Roughly the same size (200 lbs, about 6' tall, prototypical 80s safety), they both played on solid defenses, both racked up tons of tackles and hit hard (Waters had several seasons with 100+ tackles). They had a slightly different style of play and while Duerson received more accolades in terms of All-Pro designations and Pro Bowl selections, both served as important pieces in elite 80's and early 90's defenses.
On the surface, it seemed as though Waters' life after his NFL career was going alright. He held several coaching jobs with a few different college programs. He remained close with many former teammates and coaches. Living inside his head however, must have been some kind of hell. After his suicide (gunshot) in 2006 it became public knowledge that he had suffered from severe depression since retirement and had a nasty case of CTE going on. His family and friends have also called his portrayal in Concussion an insult, as he was made to look like a homeless man who had thrown away all his money. According to those family members and friends, such events were far from the truth. True or not, Waters had a very troubled life after football and killed himself at age 44.
3 Justin Strzelczyk
One of the younger members of this dreadful list, Justin Strzelczyk crashed his pickup truck while while driving into oncoming traffic back in 2004. He played for the Pittsburgh Steelers for nine years in the 1990s, but retired in 1998. After his retirement, his mind started to change and the effects of the damage his head took during his time in the league quickly started to take effect. He was a disaster to live with and his wife noticed drastic changes in his personality more than anyone. He was living free of drugs and alcohol at the time, was newly single (and had just learned his ex was remarrying) and had been suffering from what we now know is CTE, but at the time, some suggested that he was living with bipolar disorder.
2 Junior Seau
Every CTE story is a sad one thus far and this one is no different. While the symptoms of CTE (such as depression, insomnia and so on) can be treated to some extent, the gradual degeneration of the damaged brain tissue is a process that can't be stopped after it has reached a certain stage. Some guys can hide the war going on inside their head, others can't. Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau was a God when it came to hiding his problems.
Much like the positive, passionate, never-give-up type of character he was on the field, he maintained his outlook well in retirement. Seau's life off the field had been rocky, with a couple of divorces, but not quite as high profile as others around the league. After football however, friends thought he was dealing with a gambling addiction. One friend, a Marine named Jay Michael Auwae, said that Seau owed large amounts of money to casino owners but said that there was never any indication that he was in any sort of emotional distress.
In the wake of his death (by gunshot wound to the chest, again with instructions to send his brain to be studied) fans soon learned of a second side of Junior Seau, a man with a great heart who was plummeting financially and suffering from serious depression. He was 43.
1 Mike Webster
We've mentioned a few stories in this article that may have offered up a laugh or two and have detailed some tales that have been unfortunate and mildly upsetting. The finer details of Mike Webster's post-NFL life are in a class all their own. The seventeen season center (fifteen with the Pittsburgh Steelers and two with the Kansas City Chiefs) was the definition of "warrior" within the world of American football. The nine-time Pro Bowl selection and seven-time All Pro is a Hall of Famer but that honor came at high cost.
We've already talked about Seau, Duerson, and a few other notable gents whose later lives were destroyed by CTE, but Webster remains one of the most notable poster-boys. Jovan Belcher too, but we didn't mention him here because his very tragic murder-suicide took place while he was an active NFL player.
Webster, on the other hand, was feeling the effects of CTE before retirement, but had a very steady and tragic mental degeneration until his early death in 2002. He spent most of his later life living in his truck or in train and bus stations and briefly lived with his kid. His wife left him in early 2002 and he died in September of that year. If you want a (fairly accurate) Hollywood version of Mike Webster's final days, watch Concussion, but consider doing so with a bottle of whiskey nearby, it's a tough flick to take in if you like football players and want them to enjoy later life.