As much as the general public likes to obsess over how much professional athletes are making, no one tends to think too hard about how much they're actually saving until it's too late. Once you account for expenses the average person doesn't have to deal with—agents, managers, and a burning pressure to prop up your extended family—you can go through millions before you know it.
Clinton Portis found that out the hard way. In late 2015, the former NFL running back filed for bankruptcy, thanks to outstanding debts of almost $5 million to various creditors. It was a stunning development given that Portis only retired from football in 2012, and he'd signed the largest contract for a running back in league history in 2004. How could Portis have gone through $50 million so quickly?
Lavish spending has something to do with it, but Portis' mind has drifted to other causes. A recent story from Sports Illustrated described Portis' blinding rage at his financial advisors, and he came close to snapping.
On a handful of late nights and early mornings in 2013 he lurked in his car near a Washington, D.C.–area office building, pistol at his side, and waited for one of several men who had managed a large chunk of the $43.1 million he earned with his 2,230 carries over nine NFL seasons. Purportedly safe investments had suspiciously soured, and almost all the money Portis set aside to fund his future had evaporated. That future included a mother who doubles as his hero and four sons scattered across the Southeast. Their comfort and security. Their happiness.
The hucksters he deemed most responsible ignored his calls. None were bound for jail. Their coffers were dry; a lawsuit seemed pointless. Once his helplessness gave way to rage, Portis lusted for a confrontation. He would meet this betrayer not with pleas or demands, or even blows delivered by thick fists attached to thick forearms. Bullets, he thought, were his sole means of balancing the scale.
“It wasn’t no beat up,” Portis says. “It was kill.”
Through the urging of close friends, Portis managed to fight off his desire to bring violence to people he felt wronged him. Still, that he was driven to the point he even considered murder speaks volumes about his desperation, having watched his fortune turn into nothing.
His financial situation was a little rosier than the average person's, but Portis' story isn't so different than the one you've heard told about a lot of Americans since the financial crisis hit a decade ago. People who thought they were set for life and cruising into retirement trusted a few folks that didn't have their best interests in mind, and it stripped them of their life's earnings. You don't have to have been a millionaire to sympathize with Portis.
Sports leagues continue to try to provide players with resources to help them invest and save money wisely, and they need to continue making sure these guys are prepared to protect themselves from financial ruin. Everyone wants in on the action when you're a professional athlete, and hopefully younger players use Portis' story as a lesson of a path to avoid.