Commentary

The money struggle for athletes

Originally Published: February 1, 2012
By Duff McKagan | Special to ESPN.com

Terrell OwensAP Photo/Victoria WillTerrell Owens is another athlete who is struggling financially despite some huge contracts.

This free-agent season in MLB has once again raised the bar for just how very sky-high the dollar amount some players will be making. Outer space high, actually. With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder both getting new contracts of something way north of $200 million, we can all muse and even grumble at the fact that these guys will never know for want ever again.

Probably true with these two.

I have been thinking about the contracts pro athletes get, and our perception of how they must live for the large part.

Allen Iverson reportedly made $154 million in the NBA and was sued by a jeweler for $375,000 he still hasn't paid. Terrell Owens told GQ that nearly all of the $80 million he made in his career is gone.

Even superstar agent Leigh Steinberg filed for bankruptcy.

We all too often hear of athletes (or musicians for that matter) going broke. How the hell does that happen?

I have ended up on the other side of the money equation myself, and hence may be able to shed a little light on the hard realities of what a lot of dough all at once really means.

Now, to be sure, we all dream that one day a whole windfall of cash just comes cascading in. Like winning a lottery. Like finding a whole suitcase bulging with dollars. Or, getting a pro athlete-size signing bonus and contract.

But here are some factors that are not often discussed:

• A lion's share of athletes don't come from upper-crust families where money in large doses is status quo. Heck, a lion's share of everyone doesn't come from that background.

• Investment, risk, reward and money retention are thus foreign terms.

• Taxman takes half.

• Agent takes 10 percent or 15 percent.

• Lawyer takes 5 percent.

So at this point, instead of $10 million, the athlete may be looking at something more like $2.5 million. Still not a bad payday, eh?

But put yourself in that situation. You've got some of your boys you wanna take care of, right? Maybe put some of your buddies on a payroll? And you gotta take care of your family, and especially your mom, right? OK, So buy her a house.

And what about a car and house for yourself? You might as well get that Mercedes AMG for $200K. The house on the water on the good side of town will work ... and you need a condo in the city that you are playing in, too.

All of a sudden, that $10 million is gone, and you are signing playing cards at a convention just to pay down that car that is now six years old, dented and worth about 30 grand. And now maybe the real estate market has taken a nose dive.

But everyone expects you to be rich and flush with cash, and so, to stave off embarrassment for a while, you still try to look like you are living like a king. Until you are in debt and filing a Chapter 11 for relief.

Those be the grim and cold hard non-pleasantries. Those things we don't think of when we blankly daydream of a bag of signing day cash.


Musician Duff McKagan -- who writes for Seattle Weekly, has written for Playboy.com and now has his autobiography out -- writes a weekly sports column for ESPN.com. To send him a note, click here and fill out the form.

Michael "Duff" McKagan, a founding member of Guns N' Roses, writes a weekly column for Playbook Sounds and is a passionate sports fan. McKagan is currently playing in Loaded and Velvet Revolver, is a prolific writer, including an autobiography, "It's So Easy: And Other Lies."