Rags to Riches to Rags: Why Pro Athletes Go for Broke

Story and photo by: Ray Stowers

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a millionaire pro athlete? How easy would life be if you could earn a large lump sum of money doing what you love to do? By being a professional athlete, life can be pretty grand.  For star athletes like Terrell Owens and Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, money seems to flow in like water through a faucet. The average person could make the assumption that these pro athletes are set for life and have nothing to worry about now that they’ve made their millions. But things aren’t always what they seem when it comes to the glitz and glamour of a professional athlete’s lifestyle. Often times, having more money brings more problems. Even the highest paid athletes like Owens and Taylor have hit rock bottom.

Koa Misi, current linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, says, “We become an instant target because our salaries are made public, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” For Misi, who is on a four-year contract worth $17 million, being a millionaire brings just as much pressure as it does him good. “I am happy I get to take care of my family, bought my mom a house, bought my dad and his wife a house, few cars, got me and my wife a house, got my little sis a house, and everything has been good so far,” he says. However, it’s his spending habits and having to say “no” that he has a hard time with. “I feel obligated to take care of a lot of my extended families as well, you know cousins, uncles, aunts, friends, etcetera,” he explains. “All of that adds up, so I kind of learned to remove myself from those situations because everybody automatically assumes that I’ll step in and take care of them.”

Today, there are programs for pro athletes “where we have mentors come and educate us on why athletes go broke,” Misi says. “Pretty much they teach us how to say no and what groups or situations to avoid.” Saving money is the new mantra for today’s generation of athletes. Misi said that going broke is the “shame on you for not knowing” tag that athletes will get labeled with if they have to file for bankruptcy. An article published by Sports Illustrated in 2009 reported that a shocking 78% of NFL football players have filed for bankruptcy within two years of retirement.  ESPN did a special as part of its 30 for 30 short film series called “Broke,” which documented how several athletes blew through millions, portraying the same challenges and difficulties almost all pro athletes go through when losing their money. Many of the male athletes lost a chunk of their money on divorces. Child support was another big expense. Bad investment planning such as restaurants, car washes, gyms, car dealerships, bars, clubs and overseas ventures were all too familiar when it came to the list of bad investments.


Ray and Koa at post-game of Dolphins vs. Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. 10/29/2015.

Another factor that chips away at the pro athlete’s bank account is tax deduction. The more money a player made, the higher the tax bracket, and this is where athletes did not comprehend that they do not get the full amount that they signed for on the contract.

Being so competitive on the playing field might be a recipe for disaster off the field. Now that they are able to afford the luxury, many wealthy athletes go out and get the most expensive cars, the biggest homes, and extras such as yachts, jewelry, bikes, even private planes. Jewelry has been one of the most surprising expenses pro athletes spend a lot of money on. Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant has spent over $1 million on jewelry alone. It becomes a competition between these athletes on who can show off their wealth the best, also known as “stunting.”

It seems that the bigger they get, the harder they fall. Professional athletes don’t usually expect to become victims of their success. They have an enormous pressure to take care of everyone in their circle. They also have an enormous pressure to perform in the spotlight. Therefore, being a multi-millionaire athlete is hard as it is and spending money seems to provide the comfort.


  • Terrell Owens was worth about $80 million. He was in a reality show and is currently on a modeling contract.
  • Warren Sapp made around $60 million. He was an NFL analyst on ESPN and the NFL network but got fired. Sapp owns over 240 pairs of sneakers.
  • Mark Brunell made $50 million. He is currently a high school football coach. Brunell lost chunks of cash on investments with franchise Whataburger.
  • Tiki Barber made around $35 million. He became a broadcaster after his playing career which didn’t do so well. He left his wife, while pregnant, for his 23-year old intern. This broke the morality clause that was on his contract with NBC.
  • Lawrence Taylor made over $16 million in his career. He is considered one of the best defenders ever to come out of the NFL. Taylor played back in the 80’s which explains the drop in millions compared to today’s athletes.


Koa Misi Phone Interview – reference http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/M/MisiKo99.htm

Callahan (June 14, 2015) How Pro Athletes Lose Everything. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2015/06/14/how-pro-athletes-lose-everything-buying-cars-jewels-and-pet-tigers/

MoneyTips (August 13, 2015) 1 in 6 NFL players go bankrupt. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/1-in-6-nfl-players-go-bankrupt/

Gladych (September 26, 2012) NFL financial advisor program helps pro athletes make the most of their money. Retrieved from http://www.benefitspro.com/2012/09/26/nfl-financial-advisor-program-helps-pro-athletes-m

Torre (March 23, 2009) How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke. Retrieved from http://www.si.com/vault/2009/03/23/105789480/how-and-why-athletes-go-broke

Florios (March 28, 2011) Dez Bryant sued for $246,000 in jewelry. Retrieved from http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/03/28/dez-bryant-sued-for-246000-in-jewelry/

Shondell (July 15, 2015) Top 15 Retired NFL Players that went broke and had to find regular jobs. Retrieved from http://www.thesportster.com/football/top-15-retired-nfl-players-that-went-broke-and-had-to-find-regular-jobs/