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Ten Athletes Who Have Faced Bankruptcy

Updated on April 23, 2013

Since the advent of television money and the explosion of sports globally, athletes have been able to make a good living, either through playing or endorsements. Some of them earn more in a year than most people will earn in a lifetime, others seem to earn as much as the GDP of a small country. The trick is to hold onto that money.

Joe Flacco is a Baltimore quarterback as was John Unitas. Unitas played from 1956 – 1973 earning around $4 million. His first NFL contract was for $7,000 (he played semi-pro ball for the Bloomfield Rams for $6 a game) and, including bonus money, was paid $425,000 the last year of his career in San Diego. Flacco has just signed a 6-year $120.6 million contract with $52 million of it guaranteed. I think Joe may be all right though. Apparently he stopped at a McDonald’s on his way home from the contract signing and took $6.99 out of that $29 million signing bonus and got himself a 10-piece McNugget meal with fries and an unsweetened iced tea.

Unitas on the other hand suffered from bad business dealings. He invested in a chain of bowling establishments, a prime-rib restaurant, an air-freight company, and Florida real estate. He filed for bankruptcy in 1991 after investing in a failed circuit-board manufacturer. At the end of his life he was severely hobbled by artificial knees and had lost the use of his right hand due to injury as a player. Not only was Unitas the victim of bad business dealings, one of the pillars the modern game was built on was denied disability benefits.

Leon Spinks (earnings from two fights of $4.5 million) was the first professional boxer to defeat Muhammad Ali. Spinks went from the top of the world with his victory in the Olympics and his defeat of Ali to the bottom of the heap. Before he fought his rematch with Ali he was arrested four times for everything from driving on the wrong side of the road to cocaine possession, the WBC stripped him of his title for giving Ali the rematch, and his lawyers and managers allegedly spent and or took all of his money. At the present time he is living in Nebraska working at a McDonald’s and running a youth program at the local YMCA.

Scott Eyre (estimated lifetime earnings $10 million) was a pitcher with the White Sox, Blue Jays, Giants, Cubs, and Phillies from 1997 – 2009. Eyre was a victim of the $8 billion fraud perpetrated by Texas financier Allen Stanford. Stanford, a former financier and sponsor of professional sports is currently serving a 110-year prison sentence convicted of charges his investment company was nothing more than a massive Ponzi scheme. Eyre found his assets frozen and eventually lost as a result of the investigation. In 2009 the Phillies agreed to advance Eyre a portion of his $2 million salary.

Jack Clark (estimated lifetime earnings $20 million) was an 18-year veteran with the Giants, Cardinals, Yankees, Padres and Red Sox. Clark’s downfall was cars. When he declared bankruptcy in 1992 he listed debts of $11.4 million and assets of $4.8 million. He owned 18 automobiles including a $717 thousand Ferrari and three Mercedes Benzes that cost $125 thousand each. At one point he was paying seventeen car notes simultaneously and owed half a million in back taxes. He ended up losing his $2.4 million home and his drag-racing business. Apparently Clark has re-grouped, gotten back on his feet and is re-involved with baseball.

Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (estimated lifetime earning $20 million) played for ten years in the CFL and NFL. Projected as a number one draft choice out of Notre Dame he signed with the Toronto Argonauts for the then unheard of sum (either NFL or CFL) of $18.2 million over four years. His per season salary was more than the anticipated CFL salary cap. The Rocket never experienced any jail time, drug charges or bankruptcy; he just simply was financially bled to death by “fool-proof” investments including a Rock n’ Roll Café, COZ Records, a movie, cosmetics, nationwide phone card dispensers, and calligraphy proverb kiosks. Today he does a sports talk show for the Dallas Cowboys and very carefully watches his earnings.

Dorothy Hamill (estimated earnings of $1-2 million annually) won the gold medal in the 1976 Olympics and became America’s darling. Since then she has made a bad investment in the dying Ice Capades franchise, survived breast cancer and had two divorces. A failed venture into an Arizona ice skating rink brought her to bankruptcy. You’ll next be seeing Hamill in 2013 on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Latrell Sprewell (estimated earnings $96 million) was a 13-year NBA veteran who turned down a contract from the Minnesota Timberwolves because the amount was too low. Sprewell stated the 3-year $21 million offer wouldn’t be enough to enable him to feed his family. Three years after he turned down the Timberwolves offer federal agents repossessed his yacht. He eventually defaulted on a $1.5 million mortgage losing his home to foreclosure, stopped paying his motorsports’ company’s bills, and then defaulted on another home loan of $10 million. In July 2001 Sprewell was named one of Wisconsin’s most notorious delinquent taxpayers, owing the state $3.5 million in unpaid income taxes. On January 1, 2013 he was arrested by Milwaukee police for disturbing the peace at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Bjorn Borg (estimated earnings of $4 million plus $4 million per year in endorsements) owned homes in Monte Carlo and on a small island off of the Swedish coast. Despite the nice digs retirement did not go nearly as well as his career. He overdosed on drugs, an incident which some have claimed to be a suicide attempt and which he denies. His wife left him soon after and he worked his way through a number of women, one of whom was arrested for cocaine possession by police. His attempt to launch a clothing line failed miserably and he nearly went into bankruptcy. At one point he put his trophies up for auction and then pulled them back after conversations with McEnroe, Connors and Agassi. Today he has rebounded with an underwear line and a new dating site.

George Best (lifetime earnings of $100 million) was one of England’s first celebrity footballers who in 21-years of soccer became a global hero. However, he had a problem with alcohol, a problem so deep he eventually needed a liver transplant. He has served two terms in jail for drunk driving and assaulting police officers. When asked about his financial losses he said, “I spent a lot of money on booze, [women], and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

Mike Tyson (estimated earnings of $300-400 million) at one time had a bathroom with a tub that cost $2 million. In 2003 he declared bankruptcy with $34 million in debts. Tyson has gone from being the up and coming savior of boxing to having been accused of domestic battery in a 20/20 interview, found guilty of and imprisoned for rape, felony possession of drugs, a DUI, and the biting of Holyfield’s ear. At one point Tyson was reportedly worth less than $700; however, he is making his way back. He appears to be faring well with his drug and alcohol recovery and has made several cameos in a few movies. In the meantime he is caring for his pigeons.

This is a sampling to show there are a variety of reasons for someone who has earned a lot of money to lose it. Often it is personal demons, immaturity and simply being a fool, but more often it can be poor advice, theft, and simply bad financial luck.

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