Soup Lines Not in Players' Futures

NFL players are losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses. Yet the union prepared its players for the lockout and none will be filing welfare forms any time soon.

And so the horror stories, as you knew they eventually would, have started.

In the past couple days alone, there have been reports from respected media outlets about cash-strapped NFL players applying for loans at exorbitant interest rates that most would consider predatory.

Tales of players canceling vacations or, in the case of Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall, of hanging on to his six-year-old Jaguar for just a while longer.

Rumors of players, prompted by the lockout, seeking loans from teammates.

Even stories of younger veterans moving back in with their parents or of players who have pursued jobs outside of football.

Given the perception of NFL players as free-spending millionaires, with little or no perspective on the future, such parables were inevitable. And there's no reason to doubt that most of them are accurate.

But before you start passing the donation hat, or begin scheduling telethons for your favorite player, this news flash:

Most players, at least from the agents to whom The Sports Xchange has spoken of late, apparently heeded the cautionary messages enunciated by the former NFLPA the past few years.

That's not to pretend that players squirreled away 25 percent of their salaries in 2009 and '10, as the NFLPA suggested that they do in advance of the lockout, but that the majority of players are not yet in dire financial straits.

Anyone seen a player in a soup line?

"From our experience, guys seemed to have heeded what they were told," said Atlanta-based agent Pat Dye. "Fortunately, we haven't had clients coming to us to try to arrange lines of credit for them, and things like that. Maybe our players have just been more responsible than most, I don't know. But I think, from talking to people around the league, other agents and stuff, that the union prepared guys well."

We've frequently been critical of NFLPTA leadership, and questioned their overall educational initiative with players. Guilty as charged. But it appears that one of the few things the players association got right was the preparation of its rank-and-file for the lockout.

Doubtless there were players who ignored the warnings.

The stories cited above -- of players applying for short-term loans with default rates as high as 36 percent, of scaling back on excesses, of general belt-tightening and consolidation of costs- are likely true. But the majority of players in the NFL, none of whom would be drawing salaries yet anyway, remain solvent and united. And for that, the NFLPTA deserves a grudging nod of approval.

Sure, there are players who miss the offseason workout bonuses they would have earned. Others counting on per diem from offseason programs, or from roster bonuses, to get them through, might be slightly hurt on the savings line. There are players who pay lip service to the old "tomorrow isn't promised to anyone" line, but who count on tomorrow to help pay the bills. It would be naive to believe otherwise.

Those players make good copy. It's pretty boring to cite a player who has planned well, and managed his finances appropriately, and who is living out more than a subsistence existence during the work stoppage. But surely there are such players.

During a meeting a few months ago between union officials and a contingent of prominent player representatives, an agent charged the association with not doing enough to educate its members about possible financial ramifications of a lockout. Many in the session eyed the agent disapprovingly.

Said prominent agent Joel Segal: "If anything, the union has beat (the message of fiscal responsibility) to death."

And, apparently, some players listened.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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