A lot of people think American professional athletes are overpaid, especially in the big-time sports (Major League Baseball, NBA, NFL). You will get no argument from me on the first two sports, but I think football players earn their large salaries, generally speaking. Here’s why:
1. Nearly half of all NFL players make the league minimum. This year, that ranged from $375,000 to $910,000, depending on how long the player has been in the league. Good money, but not the multi-millions imagined by casual fans. The money is not guaranteed (for the most part); if a player is cut before a game, he is usually not paid for that game.
2. The average NFL career lasts about 3 1/2 seasons.
3. Unless he is a kicker, an NFL player is virtually guaranteed to walk away from football with serious, lifelong medical issues. As John Madden once said, “If you play one NFL game, you will never be the same again.” I will never forget meeting a group of former 49ers at a sports banquet hosted by Yosemite High School. Most of those men walked with noticeable limps and several had canes. They weren’t octogenarians, either – I had watched a lot of them play within the last couple of decades.
Football has a lot of rewards, to be sure, and I am certain that most former players will tell you that they wouldn’t trade their time in the NFL for anything. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that they all live a life of wealth and ease after they are done playing.