With thousands of men playing pro football over the years, there will be examples at each extreme of what happens when a lot of money lands in someone’s lap in his early 20s. At that age, most aren’t thinking five years down the road — and they’re definitely not considering where they will be 20 years or into the future.
The case of former NFL linebacker Keith McCants, a top-five pick of the Buccaneers in the 1990 draft, provides the latest message to every player regarding the importance of realizing the fleeting nature of their careers, along with the consequences of giving in to the temptation to spend every last penny that flows into their bank accounts.
McCants, jailed since April 23 on charges new and old, is dealing both with legal troubles and lingering physical issues from his playing days. On top of that, he’s broke.
“I wish I had never had any money,” McCants recently told Joey Johnston of the Tampa Tribune during an jailhouse interview. “I would’ve been great without money. It’s a sad story, but it’s a true story. Money destroyed everything around me and everything I care for, my family, my so-called friends. I just want enough to live on. I never want to be rich again.”
It’s not as if McCants didn’t have people urging him to save his money. Danny Sheridan, the long-time line-setter for USA Today, had a heart-to-heart with McCants when he left Alabama one year early for the NFL.
“I told him he had to take his signing bonus, put it away and invest it, not pay any taxes on it, and just live very comfortably off his salary,” Sheridan told the Tribune. “That way, if he got hurt and the money dried up, he’d have something to fall back on.
“He wouldn’t hear of that. I said, ‘Keith, if you don’t listen to me, you’re going to have all this new wealth, you’re going to be surrounded by an entourage of people who like you just because you have money and, unless you’re the next Lawrence Taylor, in a few years, you’re going to be broke.’ Well, guess what happened?”
What happened is that McCants spent all of it. Along the way, he offered to buy a Jeep for Jimmy Wigfield of the Mobile Press-Register, who had covered McCants in college. Wigfield explained that he couldn’t accept the gift from McCants.
“I’m not sure he understood,” Wigfield told the Tribune. “He meant well. I think for every one of me, there were 10 other people around him who took him up on such offers. That might explain where all that money went.”
Unfortunately, the extreme cases attract the attention, causing many to assume that every NFL player chooses to live in the moment during his career, and then to spend every moment after his career ends trying to figure out how to make a living. We hear about the success stories only occasionally, and we rarely hear about the vast majority of players who are financially and physically healthy for years after they stop playing.
Still, every player — especially highly-drafted rookies who assume that they’ve just received an endless supply of money — should realize that their careers could end sooner than they ever imagined, that reckless spending will wipe out that supposedly endless supply of money, and that they will have to find a way to take care of themselves and their families for several decades beyond the last time they wear a football helmet.