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5 Financial Pitfalls Athletes Can’t Afford to Ignore


Key Takeaways:

  • Athletes often face financial challenges despite lucrative careers due to mismanaging money or trusting the wrong people with their finances.
  • Common risks that threaten athletes' wealth include entourages, unqualified gatekeepers, and financial short-sightedness.
  • Solutions to frequently seen financial pitfalls for pro athletes involve setting boundaries, seeking diverse advice, and adopting disciplined budgeting.


It's an all-too-common story: A talented athlete makes it to the big leagues and scores a life-changing payday only to watch their wealth slip away.

In some cases, it's the result of overspending or poor financial planning. In other cases — like we recently saw with Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani (you can read MGO Entertainment, Sports, and Media Industry Leader Tony Smalls' perspective on that situation in this ESPN article) — it's trusting the wrong people with access to your finances.

The reason we see the same story play out time and again in the world of professional sports is simple: athletes aren't trained to look out for red flags or be proactive about protecting their money.

But just as you would prepare for an opponent before a big game or match, you need to be aware of the potential financial pitfalls you may encounter as a professional athlete.

The Five Biggest Dangers to Athletes’ Wealth

The warning signs that an athlete’s wealth is about to take a turn for the worse are easy to spot – because it happens in predictable ways. Lack of experience and betrayals of trust are enough to take down all but the strongest financial foundations. The biggest keys are to understand it can happen to anyone, and take the simple steps to avoid these issues.

1. The Entourage

Friends from the neighborhood latch onto the athlete and live the celebrity life while being a persistent drain on finances and a source of bad ideas. The athlete has promised to “take them out of the neighborhood/poverty,” but forgets that before they can help anyone else, they need to put the oxygen mask on themselves first. 

What to do instead: You can turn this potential risk into an asset. Take your crew out of the neighborhood but set them up to thrive. Whether through responsible small business loans, or education and career training, you can rise up together. 

2. The Gatekeeper

Far too frequently, a long-time friend or family member lacking financial expertise assumes the role of "The Gatekeeper" for the athlete. This individual often makes ill-informed business choices and monopolizes access to the athlete, shielding their finances from scrutiny and preventing anyone from uncovering potential negative consequences. 

What to do instead: Instead of relying on a single gatekeeper, assemble a roundtable of advisors AND meet with them together, as often as you can. Especially as significant financial decisions are being made. Carefully evaluate those you entrust with financial matters, considering both their motivations and competency in making sound financial decisions. If either aspect is lacking, guide them toward improvement or seek out individuals with the necessary qualifications and integrity. 

3. The Tantrum

When finally rewarded for the work and discipline required to become a pro, many athletes go through a phase of feeling they deserve anything and everything. When advised not to buy luxury items such as jewelry or cars, the response often is “who the hell are you to tell me what I can or cannot buy!?” Increasingly disastrous financial decisions inevitably follow. 

What to do instead: This one is on you. No one will ever truly understand what you’ve endured to achieve success, but you also have to keep one foot on the ground and understand how quickly you could lose everything you’ve worked for. The best path forward is to implement a budget with room to enjoy what you’ve earned that also has controls in place to ensure you’re building an unshakeable foundation for the future. 

4. The YES Men

When someone in the athlete’s camp gets fired for not agreeing with a bad decision, the professionals hired to protect their client (like the agent, business manager, or lawyer) may mitigate any conflict with the athlete to avoid getting fired — becoming YES Men. They would rather ride out the impending financial storm rather than tell the athlete what he or she actually needs to hear. Once there are only YES men around, the end is almost certainly near. 

What to do instead: Understand how getting different points of view on financial matters helps avoid financial hazards. Get into the habit of asking your team: “What could go wrong with this financial move?” The final decision is always yours, but there is tremendous value in advisors who feel confident sharing financial knowledge and experience, even when you don’t want to hear what you need to hear. 

5. Financial Myopia

Athletes can have a defective vision of their financial future. The average career span in the NFL is 3.3 years. In the NBA, it's 4.5 years. The NHL is 5 years. And MLB is 5.6 years. Sure, pro players may earn a lot of money. But after paying agent’s fees, taxes, and shelling out for a luxury lifestyle, there isn’t much left to support the non-playing years. Some athletes may think they can pull off another miracle in overcoming all odds to maintain their lavish lifestyle, but the most common result is a broke athlete. 

What to do instead: Budgeting and planning are the keys here. Just remember it isn’t a “one or the other” situation. With the right mindset and approach, you can still live (relatively) large, while putting away enough to secure a future for yourself and your family. It just takes some self-control and a willingness to make the right decisions. 

Overcoming Financial Obstacles by Building a Winning Team

Many athletes come into a level of money at a young age that no one is truly prepared to handle. Lack of experience and betrayals of trust are enough to take down even the strongest financial foundations. This is why it is essential to choose a winning financial team

Too often, athletes split responsibilities between team members (frequently friends and family members), allowing them to operate in silos without any oversight. This sets the stage for financial trouble down the line. Instead, you need to build a team of professionals who work together, so you always have a system of checks and balances in place. 

Remember, true baller status comes when an athlete can live like a king for a lifetime, not just a couple years. When you build a trusted team, establish a plan, and follow it through, you can live comfortably long after your playing days are over. 

How we can help:

With more than 30 years of experience working with athletes, actors, and music artists, our dedicated Entertainment, Sports, and Media team understands the unique financial challenges you face. Our team will help you build a financial foundation to achieve your goals both now and in the future. Reach out to us today to learn more.

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