Can NFL Players Afford a Lockout?

NFL players lockout could destroy players in financial distress like JaMarcus RussellThe average National Football League player makes around $850,000 a year, yet, according to an expert interviewed by MSNBC, 22% of the league's 1,700 players have no savings to fall back on should the threatened lockout occur. Shocked? You shouldn't be. The combination of youth and large amounts of money has led to the downfall of many pro athletes.

Witness JaMarcus Russell, the first pick in the 2007 NFL draft, who signed a contract worth $61 million. After failing miserably at playing quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, Russell was released at the end of the 2010 season. TMZ recently reported that Russell is now in danger of losing his house after falling almost $200,000 behind in paying his mortgage.In fact, according to a Sports Illustrated study, among NFL players who have been retired for two years, 78% are bankrupt or financially stressed, mostly due to divorce and/or lack of a job.

Why do these players have such troubles with money management? There are a number of reasons:

Keeping up with the Joneses: It's hard to remain frugal when surrounded by multimillionaire veterans wearing a new Rolex every day, using Cristal as mouthwash and driving a fleet of Lamborghinis and Bentleys.

Lack of Financial Acumen: Few of these stars are educated in running the mid-cap businesses that they are, and can't identify the difference between shrewd investments and wild speculation.

Misplaced Trust in People: Some trust people close to them, such as their parents, to handle financial dealing with which they have no experience. Others are susceptible to Svengalis who are more interested in tapping the client's wealth for themselves than working for his well-being.

The Allure of the Tangible: For those raised with little, a hefty account balance or a fistful of ETFs isn't as comforting as owning something tangible, such as property and businesses. Many jocks end up learning a hard lesson about the restaurant business; it is a huge money portal to the planet Broke.

Potential for Career-Ending Injury: Every player is one play away from a career-ending injury, so those who spend in anticipation of many future years of high earnings, buying a mansion with a sticker price five times their annual salary, for example, can find themselves trapped by over-the-top expenses.

Matters of the Heart: Many players marry early. Once they become pro stars, though, the temptations to stray that are thrust in their face are hard to forgo. Also, all too often, when a player retires and finds himself around the house all day, he and his wife come to the realization that they aren't really happy as a couple. Divorce terms and child support can be ruinous to a player no longer in the game, no longer making big money.

How does this affect the current NFL labor agreement negotiations? The league plans to lock out the players, even canceling next season, in order to convince them to sign a labor agreement more favorable to the owners. The strength of the player's union rests in the willingness of players to forgo the season and their salaries if necessary to force the league to attend to their demands.

If 22% of the players are already living paycheck to paycheck, how will they get by? The union has set up a strike fund that will pay each player around $60,000 spread out over the course of the season, or 3% of their average salary.

To put this in perspective, proportionally, if you were earning $50,000 a year and went out on strike under these terms, you would receive about $450, spread out over half a year. How long could you live on $17.31 a week?

The player's union has been dunning its members for a year to build a personal nest egg in anticipation of a possible work stoppage, so hopefully many are prepared for it. However, one would guess that those already spending 100% of their paycheck probably didn't find it easy to cut back.

If the work stoppage occurs, one in five NFL players is going to feel the pain very quickly. They may remain steadfast, but it will take quite a few paychecks, once play resumes, to make up the damage to their finances.

Obviously NFL players should become regular WalletPop readers. Just sayin'.
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