Making a fortune on the ballfield is a distinctly American dream. Unfortunately, it often gives way to an equally American nightmare. A Sports Illustrated article from 2009 reported that nearly 80 percent of NFL players face financial stress or bankruptcy within two years of retirement.
Basketball superstars don’t fare much better. The same Sports Illustrated piece states that, within just five years of retirement, 60 percent of NBA players go “broke.” It turns out that even six- and seven-figure paychecks don’t set you up for life.
Cristiano Ronaldo has reportedly bought the most expensive car ever, Bugatti La Voiture Noire [$12m]. There's only one model of this car and it finally seems to have an owner. He can drive it from 2021. pic.twitter.com/xtIiEolUf3
— TeamCRonaldo (@TeamCRonaldo) May 1, 2019
And it’s not just the NBA and the NFL, folks. From once-famous Olympians to the biggest names in boxing, athletes have a habit of losing it all. Here are some of the most famous sports stars to ever end up penniless:
1. Dorothy Hamill, the Olympic figure skating darling who couldn’t make it pay.
The 1976 Winter Olympics, in Innsbruck, Austria, produced one bonafide superstar. American Dorothy Hamill, then 19, overcame nerves and depression to take home the gold for figure skating. She was an immediate sensation, temporarily crowned with the dubious title of “America’s Sweetheart.”
Dorothy Hamill at Rockefeller Center in New York City on this date January 23 in 1976. Photo by Ron Frehm. pic.twitter.com/ji9N3SxXHo
— Jeffrey Guterman (@JeffreyGuterman) January 24, 2019
Hamill leveraged her fame into serious cash, performing in various ice-skating shows. She even bought the Ice Capades before selling it a few years later. Despite these successes, by 1996, Hamill was in bankruptcy court.
She had plenty of assets—$1.3 million worth, to be exact. The only trouble is that she was $1.6 million in debt. An “old friend” told People at the time that the money problems were all Hamill’s fault.
“She’d get a $100,000 deal and head right to Harry Winston jewelers,” the friend said, proving that Hamill didn’t need enemies. For her part, Hamill blamed an erstwhile husband for terrible business advice.
— #RiedellSkates (@iSkateRiedell) July 14, 2018
Recently, though, an older, wiser Hamill said that her money problems were largely the result of unscrupulous handlers.
“I thought I knew and trusted some of my peeps…,” she told CNBC in 2018. “The good news is I’ve finally found people that are trustworthy and I’m a little smarter. As an athlete you don’t learn all these things. You’re just focused on training.”
2. John Daly, the gambling pro golfer.
Many retired athletes seem to fall into gambling. It makes sense: When you’ve made your living by putting yourself into high-pressure, high-stakes situations, you can’t really turn off that switch.
Still, few athletes have gambled—and lost—as much as golfer John Daly. He told TMZ Sports that he developed a serious gambling problem between 1992 and 2007, accumulating $90 million in total losses.
“It shocked me,” Daly said of his losses. “It was more about the adrenaline than the money … I loved the action.”
“We went through all my tax records to find out, because I really didn’t know, and it just came to that,” he said in a separate interview. “I was shocked. I thought it might have been $20-25 (million), but I had no idea that it was $55-57 million. It’s crazy.”
— SwingU (@swinguapp) May 30, 2014
Unlike most of the athletes on this list, Daly isn’t completely destitute. He didn’t lose every bet; per his tax records, he won about $35 million gambling, which helps to offset the pain of the losses somewhat. He doesn’t seem especially worried about his losses, although he didn’t give many other details regarding his personal finances.
Still, considering that his total PGA tour winnings came to a little over $10.1 million, he’d certainly be in a better position if he’d never started gambling. For what it’s worth, Daly doesn’t regret his, ahem, hobby.
“People are going to say that I should regret it, but I did it,” he said. “You know, I move on from it. I had a lot of fun doing it.”
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) December 20, 2016
Incredibly, he still visits the casino, although he says he’s learned to control his impulses.
“I love the action. I love the adrenaline, going in there,” Daly said. “Now if I gamble, I play the $25 slots. If I hit something, I might move up to $100. But I don’t do what I used to do anymore.”
3. Mark Brunell, the NFL quarterback who ran afoul of the Great Recession.
If you were a Jacksonville Jaguars fan around the year 2000, you already know Mark Brunell. The left-handed quarterback racked up more than 30,000 passing yards during his 19-season career in the National Football League.
Most famously, he played for the Jaguars between 1995 and 2003, although he also spent time with Green Bay, Washington, New Orleans, and, in the final two years of his career, the New York Jets.
Husky Football is 11 days away. To help celebrate here is Husky legend Mark Brunell. Brunell won Rose Bowl MVP in 1991(1990 season) accounting for 4 TD’s. Brunell is in the Rose Bowl and UW HOF. 3X pro bowler and 1996 Pro Bowl MVP with Jacksonville Jaguars. pic.twitter.com/2MCofBbYCB
— HuskiesFan91 (@Go_Dawgs_91) August 20, 2019
Brunell got into some business deals while playing in the NFL. Unfortunately, many of his business investments were in real estate. The market crashed in 2008; by 2010, Burnell was filing for bankruptcy.
Brunell’s attorney in bankruptcy court explained the problem like this: “They bought some land and they got killed, like a lot of people did.”
Brunell’s 2010 bankruptcy filing listed assets of $5.5 million and liabilities of $24.7 million. Even his $1.55 million salary with the New Orleans Saints couldn’t put a dent in his debt. It just goes to show: Even one of the best quarterbacks in the world can’t outrun market forces.
Morally and financially bankrupt Mark Brunell pic.twitter.com/vx9NlCZnkR
— Ma! (@basementscout) December 11, 2017
Today, it seems Brunell is back on his feet. He’s a sports analyst for News4Jax in Jacksonville, he’s coaching high school ball, and he’s an advocate for financial education.
“Being famous had its benefits, particularly in a small market like Jacksonville, but then you have to make your own way,” he explained in an interview with The Independent. “Most professional athletes do not have a finance background, many of them don’t know how to manage money. Professional athletes, by their very nature, tend to be trusting people.”
4. Darren McCarty, the NHL warrior whose demons set fire to his bank account.
The trope of the hard-partying hokey pro is not a myth. Darren McCarty is here to prove it. McCarty is probably best remembered for beating the tar out of the Colorado Avalanche’s Claude Lemieux during a 1997 drive toward the Stanley Cup—which McCarty’s Detroit Red Wings ended up winning that year.
10.5 years after I crashed his 4th Stanley Cup-winning locker room celly, @spittinchiclets had the pleasure of interviewing Darren McCarty and asking him about the events surrounding the pic below and way more. https://t.co/wUAuobNcj6 pic.twitter.com/jPloguiQe4
— Rear Admiral (@RearAdBsBlog) January 3, 2019
But behind the scenes (and occasionally in full view of the press), McCarty was falling apart. Addiction and compulsive gambling led to several trips to rehab. They also trashed McCarty’s finances.
By 2006, McCarty filed for bankruptcy. He owed more than $6 million to creditors, including $185,000 to casinos. McCarty’s hard-rock band, Grinder, didn’t make enough to dig him out of the hole. Neither did playing in the National Hockey League.
Shortly thereafter, in 2008, McCarty retired from the NHL. He got help for his addiction and has moved onto his next chapter: As of 2018, McCarty was on a stand-up comedy tour.
5. Lenny Dykstra, the hard-living Phillies spark plug.
Nails. That’s Lenny Dykstra’s nickname, and it tells you most of what you need to know about the 80’s and 90’s era center fielder. Nails, as in “tough as.” Nails, as in “bed of.” Some would even say, Nails, as in “dumb as a box of.”
Dykstra made a name for himself with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he was an All-Star in 1990, 1994, and 1995. His all-time batting average is .285, with 404 career RBIs.
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Me on Kiner's Korner in '86 after beating the #Cubs to clinch the NL East – interviewed by the legendary Tim McCarver! ⚾🍎🇺🇸 #LennyDykstra #Dykstra #HouseofNails #NailsNation #LFGM #LGM #86Mets #LetsGoMets #NewYorkMets #NYMets #YaGottaBelieve #MetsBaseball #MetsWin #NYC #NewYorkCity #Baseball #MLB #MLBMemes #NewYorkCity #MLBB
But none of that is why people remember Dykstra, or why they continue to buy his autobiography, House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge. Nope, that would be because Dykstra is a fascinating trainwreck of a human.
Addiction, gambling, great wealth, and a sudden downfall—Dykstra’s story has it all. He once bought an $18.5 million mansion from Wayne Gretzky. He once went to jail on charges of grand theft auto and falsifying financial information.
That was in 2012. Dystra’s one-time fortune, reportedly worth as much as $58 million just three years earlier, had diminished to the point where he couldn’t afford the $500,000 bail.
I was feeling that today! pic.twitter.com/ylI2yyFhJz
— Lenny Dykstra (@LennyDykstra) September 9, 2019
But this is Nails we’re talking about, here. His book is a New York Times bestseller. Stephen King and Howard Stern hype it on the cover. And remember Bagel Boss Guy, who went viral for yelling in a bagel shop earlier in 2019? Yeah, Nails is reportedly going to box that guy in Atlantic City later in 2019.
So don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re finished.
6. Mike Tyson, who…is Mike Tyson.
Describing the financial (and cultural) ups and downs of Kid Dynamite would take an article all its own. Heck, it would take several articles. A book. A series, even.
So let’s just focus on the major dip from riches to bankruptcy, which Tyson lived through in the early 2000s. At the high point of his 20-year pro-boxing career, Tyson was rich. Not, like, health-insurance-and-the-newest-iPhone rich. Like, Siberian-tigers-for-pets rich. Saudi royalty rich.
— BoxingHypeStore.com (@BoxingHype) June 30, 2016
He made $400 million between the 1980s and the early 2000s, according to The New York Times. And by 2003, Tyson was more than $27 million in debt. He filed for bankruptcy, having burned through his riches on jewelry, mansions, gifts to friends, and those Siberian tigers.
But don’t count Iron Mike out yet! As of 2018, when the retired boxer was in his early 50s, Yahoo! Finance reports the man is again worth millions—three of them, rather than hundreds, but still. That’s an impressive climb from nearly $30 million in the hole.
7. Allen Iverson, the superstar who might have serious financial issues (or maybe not).
NBA superstar Allen Iverson earned a salary of more than $154 million over the course of his career—and another $50 million from Reebok via a lifetime endorsement contract. He racked up plenty of counting stats to justify those numbers: He led the league in scoring five times between 1999 and 2005, and while he never won a title, he earned the 2001 MVP Award and played in 11 All-Star games.
Unfortunately, Iverson seems to have trouble managing his money. In divorce papers filed in 2012, the star claimed $62,500 in monthly income…against more than $358,000 in monthly expenses, per TMZ. That’s a net loss of more than $3.5 million per year.
Allen Iverson drops 18 pts 7 ast with the Grizzlies as he faces a rookie Stephen Curry. (2009) pic.twitter.com/zLFdgWVP8V
— ThrowbackHoops (@ThrowbackHoops) September 5, 2019
Granted, divorce papers aren’t the best tool for analyzing financial health, since both parties have a strong incentive to understate their income. However, there are other signs Iverson has money management issues. Court documents obtained by The Blast claim that the Georgia Department of Revenue hit Iverson with a tax lien for back taxes owed in 2012 and 2013; with penalties and interest, Iverson allegedly owed more than $200,000.
And in 2012, jewelry company Alydin & Company Jewelers reportedly won a judgment against Iverson when he failed to pay a $375,000 bill. When Iverson failed to reimburse the company, he lost a second judgement, according to reports, resulting in a $859,896.46 ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.
Some fans also believe Iverson’s unusual post-NBA career could indicate financial distress. In 2010, Iverson signed a two-year, $4 million contract to play in Turkey, but denied that the move was financially motivated.
— Michael M (@mykullmaysun) November 15, 2012
“It’s not a problem, it’s not a problem, money,” he said at the time. “Obviously if it was about money, I would jump out there and say, ‘You want me to come off the bench? How much money are you paying?’ It wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s not about money or anything like that.”
When asked about his financial hardships in 2015, Iverson again denied any issues.
“That’s a myth,” he said. “That’s a rumor.”
The interviewer asked him which part.
“The fact that I’m struggling in any part of my life,” he said.
8. Johnny Unitas, the quarterback who invested in tech.
The legendary Baltimore Colt quarterback and his wife filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001, citing debts of as much as $3.2 million.
The debts were reportedly incurred when Unitas took out loans in the mid-’80s to purchase a circuit board manufacturing company. Because the loans were personally guaranteed, Unitas faced wage garnishment and asset seizure when the company failed.
”Johnny has significant assets,” Unitas’ attorney Jim Wooton said at the time. “He just wants to go repay his investors without, say, losing his house.”
— Football Trivia Guy 🏈 (@FootballTrivia4) September 7, 2019
The NFL has a pension fund, and pensions are protected by the Bankruptcy Code. Unitas’ fund was reportedly valued at $642,957.
The Unitas’ legal troubles continued after Johnny’s death in 2002. His family became engaged in a legal brawl over control of Unitas Management Corp., a company established to market Unitas’ image. The quarterback’s second wife, Sandra Unitas, eventually lost control of the company to his son after a lengthy court battle.
“I wouldn’t wish my life over the past three years on anybody,” Unitas’ son, John Unitas Jr., told The Baltimore Sun. “It should have never happened.”