In the 1988 sports film Everybody’s All American, star college football player Gavin Grey, played by Dennis Quaid, says this prophetic line, “I’m special as long as I keep making touchdowns,” and what follows is the all too common story of an accomplished athlete who has no plan for what comes after the glory days.
Sports fans are bombarded with the splashy big money deals, like Los Angeles Angels slugger Mike Trout’s 12-year $430 million contract, and sweet deals like that may be available to a statistically small group of elite athletes, but when the curtain is pulled back, the reality for the majority of college and professional athletes is not nearly as glamorous or lucrative. By the numbers:
Out of approximately 500,000 college athletes, fewer than 2% will go on to be professional athletes. (NCAA)
180,000 college athletes are scholarship recipients, averaging $16,000 per student, for total annual scholarships of $2.9 billion. (NCAA)
Approximately 12,500 college athletes get injured per year, 25% of which are “serious or severe.” This often leads to loss of scholarship, and may end their athletic career. (National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research)
The average length of a professional career is short. In the National Football League it’s 3.5 years; the National Basketball Association is 4.8 years, Major League Baseball is 5.6 years, and the National Hockey League is 3.5 years. (RAM Financial Group)
Professional athletes earn a median annual salary of $47,710. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
In the United States, only 11,800 people were employed as professional athletes at a time. And they experience more than 1,000 injuries per 10,000 players. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Most importantly, the money stops after their career in sports does. 78% of NFL players are bankrupt, or near bankrupt, two years after retirement, and 60% of NBA players are bankrupt, or near bankrupt, five years after retirement. (Sports Illustrated)
With those kinds of metrics, every athlete knows that they will have two careers. College athletes who do not “go pro” will start their second careers along the lines of their non-athlete peers, but professional athletes won’t until they “retire”. Some make the transition with ease and grace. For others, Act IT is more challenging.
Here are five job tips for athletes to consider on the journey to their second career.
Think Beyond Game Day. If you’re a college athlete, chances are your primary focus has been on your athletic talent since an early age, especially if you are on a sports scholarship, and/or in a sport that has professional leagues to which you aspire, so it is challenging to think ahead to the day when you must do something else. Education is important – carve time out to be a student, and to think about which degrees will best position you in the future. For example, a student-athlete with a business degree will have a good deal of flexibility in the workforce in terms of career paths, and can potentially go on to earn an MBA.
Plan for the Big Picture. Athletes face constant uncertainty. Even if an athlete is at the top of his or her game, the specter of a career-preventing or career-ending injury limits earning potential, and is ever-present. It helps to have a backup career plan in place – early. Under such circumstances, planning ahead not only makes any future, or sudden, professional transition easier, but also provides greater peace of mind that curtails the uneasiness surrounding the typical arc of an athlete’s career. If you develop a plan early, you’ll be better prepared to almost immediately deal with the sudden changes.
Leverage the Off-Season. Schedules, responsibilities, and obligations vary, that is understood, but to whatever degree it is possible, the off-season can be used to develop an athlete’s future career, whether college internships or practical work experience in career-oriented jobs that will carry forward. Unless they’re drafted with a top pick, minor league baseball players are paid far less than their major league counterparts and often need off-season jobs to supplement their income. If that off-season job helps build career skills, the inevitable transition will be easier when it arrives.
Focus on areas in which you have talent - and develop those. You excel at a sport. Spend time discovering your other passions and areas in which you excel. If you make that discovery in college, all the better, but if it happens later, or even post-retirement for pro athletes, always be open to new opportunities that may introduce you to your next life. For example, celebrity-athletes are exposed to many types of ancillary endeavors during their careers – broadcasting, TV/film, athletic administration, product endorsements/partnerships, and investments to name a few. Each connection is an opportunity to discover secondary talents that may thrive as a second profession.
Don’t be afraid to finish or earn a degree. Our modern world has an unprecedented number of ways to attend school, with more top-level colleges and universities offering flexible and online paths to degrees and/or certifications. The same is true for continuing education and professional training. After his junior year playing basketball at the University of North Carolina, Michael Jordan left college to go into the NBA draft, a huge story at the time. Jordan went on to earn $100 million with the Chicago Bulls, remains the highest paid athlete of all time, and has a current net worth of $1.9 billion through related endorsements and investments (Source: Business Insider). And even he returned to UNC to complete his bachelor’s degree.
Bonus education facts: Shaquille O’Neil has a Doctorate in Education from Barry University, and Tony LaRussa has a law degree from Florida State University
Philip Roufail contributed to this article.
Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services. You can email Scott Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.