It's easy to scoff when you hear about a former professional athlete who's struggling financially. Aren't these guys all millionaires? If they haven't saved enough for retirement, isn't that their own fault? But the current recession hasn't spared pro athletes, and increasing numbers of them are finding themselves in dire financial straits.
USA Today recently told the story of Willie Davis, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who played defensive end for Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. Davis, who spent his NFL off-seasons working on an MBA at the University of Chicago, was long considered one of the most astute businessmen in the NFL. But this year Davis saw the $9 million he held in stock in Alliance Bank of Culver City, California disappear when state and federal regulators shuttered the bank.
Davis, however, is trying to look on the bright side. He had enough money invested elsewhere that he could afford to lose $9 million, and he now says, "I've survived. I don't waste a lot of time thinking about it. It's gone, I realize that. I just try to move on."
Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar is in a similar situation to Davis. Kosar made millions on the field and was once viewed as an even bigger success story in the business world. But much of Kosar's money was tied up in the Florida real estate market that has now gone bust, and Kosar recently filed for bankruptcy and put his 9,900-square foot mansion up for sale (he's not the only ex-athlete putting his/her house up for sale).
And yet Kosar, like Davis, is expressing optimism that he can put his financial difficulties behind him. Not every ex-athlete who has been affected by the recession feels as fortunate.
Harry Carson, a Hall of Fame linebacker for the New York Giants, does charitable work with former players who have lost their post-football jobs and are now struggling just to make ends meet. Carson explains that for the players who played in the days before multimillion-dollar salaries were commonplace, the recession has hit especially hard:
"They're the guys who made the transition to life after (sports). They did the right things; they just went on with their lives," Carson says. "They haven't bothered anybody. They haven't asked for anything. All of a sudden: Bam! They're out of a job. ... Those are the guys my heart goes out to. ...Carson has worked to support the NFL Alumni Dire Need Fund, which is financed by NFL owners and helps pay the bills of players who are out of work. NFL Alumni President Frank Krauser says it's a cause not unlike those that support people struggling from all walks of life.
"You can hear the desperation in their voice."
"Retired players experience the same economic problems that everybody else in America has," Krauser told USA Today. "Whatever goes in the general population also affects our membership."