I am not a contributor to this website because I am an NFL wife, fiancée, or girlfriend. I am a contributor to this website because I spent nearly 10 years in the NFL as a digital media manager. I wrote for a living, built relationships with some amazing people, and was around NFL football all the time. I loved my job.
Just like most “average” sports jobs, the pay wasn’t the greatest. Due to the oversupply of professionals who are ready, willing, and able to work in sports, it’s tough to make much money unless you reach executive level.
What the job did provide me was a look into NFL life that the average American doesn’t have, which is why I feel compelled to comment on Diana Holmes’ recent WAGS Redefined article, Lifestyle Illusions.
Her dialogue ruffled a few feathers over her frustration that she’s frequently asked for free football tickets when she and her husband get a total of two for every home game and zero for every road game. Now, I understand the disconnect here because very few know what it’s like to work in the NFL. It is certainly not the glamorous, ritzy life portrayed on reality TV, and all the players are certainly not rich.
It is here that I’m hoping to bridge the gap between the average American (which I most certainly am) and the average NFL family (which I am most certainly connected with).
NFL Players Work For Their Money
First and foremost, NFL players work to earn a living, and they are compensated based upon the work they do. I understand that they are “playing a game,” but there is so much that goes into football.
I wrote a blog in 2014 when Jimmy Graham was experiencing backlash from his contract negotiations, which I think applies here.
While these players will say they are lucky, blessed, what have you, to play a sport for a living (and they mean it), they go through a heck of a lot more than simply having a good ole time on Sundays.
Players are “healthy” when they report to training camp in July, if they’re lucky. That’s pretty much it. Once the physical demands of the sport begin, it’s all downhill from there.
I have seen so many players barely able to walk or move a limb from Monday through Saturday only to suit up and play on Sunday. Players who catch the ball have mangled fingers to the point that it hurts like hell just to catch a football. Guys have pulled hamstrings and sprained ankles, but run for 60 minutes. Defenders have hurt shoulders, but wrap up opponents in tackles. Offensive linemen rarely get off the field despite painful leg injuries.
Then they have to face the media and downplay their injuries and take ownership for a bad performance. They are called bums by the fans and are sometimes made fun of in broadcast media.
Sounds like fun, eh?
Players pay physical dues for the money they make. They also are the fuel that fires the NFL’s multiBILLION dollar industry. Believe it or not, players are probably underpaid considering the amount of money the NFL brings in each year in TV revenue, ticket sales, and merchandising.
There’s No Money Tree
One thing I don’t understand is why people think they are owed something because NFL players allegedly make a lot of money.
Do you ask your doctor to comp your appointment because he or she is making a minimum of $150,000 per year? Do you ask your lawyer to represent you pro bono because he or she is pretty well off? No, that sounds ridiculous. Why should an NFL player feel obligated to pay for anyone’s tickets, merchandise, or anything else, simply because they make a lot of money?
It’s one thing to pay for tickets for someone who is out of work, fighting a disease, or just having a tough time in life. Human decency would nudge anyone — me included — to go above and beyond for someone like that.
But I think Diana was talking about people who are doing just fine expecting a freebie simply because she and her husband are “rich.” Her point was that they aren’t rich. I would go one step further and say that, even if they were, they are under no obligation to give anybody anything.
Financial Responsibility is Rare
Did you know that most NFL players go bankrupt or suffer major financial stress within two years of leaving the game? If you have Netflix, check out the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “Broke.” Financial irresponsibility is an epidemic in the entertainment industry and a lot of it has to do with these players feeling obligated to give their money away once they “make it big.”
I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Players getting an email from their brother’s friend’s cousin’s teacher asking to bail them out of a $4,000 debt for no reason other than the assumption that they have a money tree in their backyard.
The problem is, that guilt takes over for a lot of guys and they do give their money away. While there’s nothing wrong with that to a certain extent, NFL players average less than three years in the league with no guaranteed money. So it can all go away in an instant and — if you’re spending your money as you get it — you’ll be left with nothing.
One former NFL wide receiver, Ryan Broyles, made headlines in August when he disclosed to reporters that he and his wife live on $60,000 per year. He was a second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma and received a $1.5 million bonus upon signing with the Detroit Lions. Instead of buying himself fancy cars, jewelry, and a huge house, Ryan and his wife, Mary Beth, decided to save.
Ryan subsequently suffered an ACL tear and an Achilles injury and is no longer in the league. His career lasted three years. Had he gone hog wild with his signing bonus, he would be back at square one with nothing to show for his NFL career but a Detroit Lions t-shirt. Since he and his wife were financially responsible, though, they are set up to pursue Ryan’s dream of investing in real estate.
Diana Holmes has written two articles for WAGS Redefined: Lifestyle Illusions and How I Lost Myself in the NFL. Both of these articles are beautifully candid and I think a lot of readers will find them fascinating.
I appreciate her willingness to put herself out there and stick up for the average NFL family which, believe it or not, is much like you and me. They are working to earn a living and saving for life beyond the game. They may be blessed enough to retire on the money they’ve earned in the NFL, but they will more than likely move on to a secondary career.
There is also a high likelihood that they give back to those less fortunate through a foundation or private donations, or they take care of their own friends and family who have come on hard times. They also endure ridicule and scrutiny in the media, give up some levels of privacy, and are judged relentlessly.
My point isn’t that we should all feel sorry for these people, it’s to say that everyone pays a price. Even the most rich and famous struggle with loneliness. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all come together and embrace our similarities instead of cut each other down for our differences?
I’m hoping Diana Holmes and the other writers and this website can help us do that.