There are any number of careers that can result in permament injury; playing football is just one more. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, for example, affects everyone from slaughterhouse workers to computer programmers. We consumers pay the slaughterhouse worker to cut up our steaks for our dinner, we pay codemonkeys to write the next version of Windows for our computer, and we pay the NFL player to give and receive bodily harm for our entertainment. Is the difference between these three cases really so vast?
On on hand, the guys who become NFL players aren't likely to find similar economic opportunities in other lines of work. The stars earn big bucks, bigger than they could possibly make anywhere else with their mind or body. However, for most NFL players, it ain't a lot:
• Average NFL player salary: $1.9 million
• Median NFL player salary: $770,000
• Average NFL career length: 3.5 years
• Number of players on injured reserve in 2010: 352
• Average NFL player age: 27
Data: National Football League; National Football League Players Assn.
When you make that much money in the space of just 3.5 years, the IRS takes a big bite, but there's enough left over that if it's wisely invested, it could provide a decent supplement to whatever job the player finds after his NFL career is over. Unfortunately, I think most players aren't that smart with their money. I recall reading an article several years ago about a financial advisor who worked for the NFL, whose job it was to counsel new players regarding fiscal sensibility. He said his job was often hopeless, as new players who were suddenly earning several hundred thousand dollars a year started living the good life, not thinking of (or saving for) the future at all; he said the "MC Hammer
" scenario happened all too often. Instead of a high, short-lived salary, the NFL might better serve these players by setting up some sort of trust fund for each one that ensures something like a lifelong pension, even if it's modest.
I think most college players go into it with the hope of turning pro at the end. It's a rare exception when a college player actually uses his sports scholarship to focus on a meaningful education. If a college player's body is to suffer some permament damage, at least it ought to be in the pursuit of a real education that can lead to a productive non-athletic career, or a real above-board salary (maybe something like that trust fund mentioned above?).