The Choice an Athlete Makes to Become Professional Without a Degree
The choices can be very cumbersome for an athlete when faced with a decision of accepting an offer to become a professional athlete or making a choice to complete a degree program before entering the professional arena. Though it is uncommon for athletes to go straight from high school to the professional leagues, there are a few that have had the benefit of doing just that. Ideally, an athlete needs to pursue an academic degree before entering into professional sports. Usually, if given the opportunity, an athlete will choose to pursue the professional career before pursuing an academic degree. The consequences can be harsh if the wrong decision is made. Athletes do not have a backup plan if their professional career ends because the decision to become professional without completing a degree program is usually because of monetary reasons. It would be wise for a student athlete to choose a degree program in business or health sciences as a back-up plan for when their professional sports career ends rather from an unexpected end or retirement.
Why would an athlete choose not to complete a degree program if they were offered a chance to become a professional athlete? The answer is quite simple. The financial rewards are phenomenal. They are the highest paid profession within the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the highest average salary range for professions, other than professional sports, $232,830 (Unites States Bureau of Labor Statistics). These professions were mostly in the medical field. Other professions that make up these numbers are in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. A recent study done by the Georgetown University Center on education and the workforce stated that salaries for recent college graduates between the ages of 22 and 26 are also in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (Carnevale, Rose and Cheah).
With the top salaries up to $232,830 (Unites States Bureau of Labor Statistics), the average athlete makes more than that their first year participating in professional sports. Athletes are being offered $2 to $3 million for a five year contract, which averages $400,000 to $600,000 annually. These numbers do not include endorsements. The endorsements can double, if not triple an athlete's annual salary. With these kinds of numbers, there would be many people who would question the purpose of turning down the chance of a professional career and going to college to obtain a degree.
At the time of graduation from high school, many athletes are sought out by college scouts looking for the most talented athletes to fill their school sport rosters. Athletes are given many offers and perks to sign with certain schools to participate in their athletic programs. Promises are made to the parents of these athletes by schools to make their program seem like it will be a one-in-a-lifetime chance for the athlete. There has also been such controversy on the subject of collegiate athletes being paid a salary to play in the top revenue sport programs. The top revenue sport programs are basketball, baseball, and football. College scouts and coaches can be very convincing to an athlete and their family members to encourage signing with them.
Depending on the family background and poverty level, an athlete can become blinded by the financial aspect of becoming a professional athlete. There are many athletes who come from a single parent home and lived a poverty stricken life. Being offered the opportunity to go from poverty to living a life of luxury is highly motivating to an athlete and their family. An athlete can be pressured to make such a major decision if they are financially challenged. Even when athletes are offered full scholarships to attend college, they would rather take the opportunity to become professional now than to risk the possibilities of obtaining a degree and losing their chances to become part of the big leagues. It is understandable that many athletes have made the choice to go straight to the professional leagues versus going to college to earn a degree.
NBA players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Moses Malone, Dwight Howard, and Tracy McGrady were drafted to the NBA immediately after high school. Being offered such a substantial amount of money at the age of 18 is remarkable. As students, athletes are not motivated academically to complete a degree program when they are offered such high monetary benefits. As these athletes were offered millions of dollars for their athletic ability following high school, these players were not focused on their academic careers.
Lebron James is currently ranked as the 4th highest paid athlete making a salary of $17.8 Million (Forbes Magazine). He was offered over $90 million from Nike for seven years and $5 Million from Upper Deck trading cards for five years before he was even drafted to the NBA (Mark J. Terrill) . Currently, Lebron James makes $17.5 million per year. Lebron James never went to college to obtain a degree.
Kobe Bryant is currently ranked as the 3rd highest paid athlete making a current salary of $27.9 Million (Forbes Magazine). He made approximately $950,000 his rookie year in the NBA. A month before his 18th birthday, Kobe Bryant signed with the Los Angeles Lakers for $3.5 million. Unlike the other players that are on the list of athletes who have gone to the professional league straight from high school because of financial reasons, Kobe Bryant lived a prominent life. His father was a professional basketball player who went on to play oversees in Italy (Kobe Bryant 2013). Kobe also decided to go to college and take online classes to obtain a college degree while playing in the professional league.
Kevin Garnett grew up in a single-parent household. He and his two younger sisters were raised by their mother solely. Kevin's father was absent in his life. With a single mother working two jobs to support their family, Kevin's offer to head straight for the professional league gave him and his family hope. Kevin Garnett was offered $126 million for 6 years. That averages $21 million annually. Getting his mother and sisters out of poverty was his top priority (Kevin Garnett 2013).
Moses Malone was the first high school player to go to the professional league straight from high school. He was also born in a small town in Virginia raised by a single mother. He was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Maryland, but decided to take the offer to become a professional athlete instead of attending college and getting a degree. His ending salary of his career was $2.125 million (Moses Malone 2013).
Dwight Howard is ranked as the 29th highest paid athlete making a current salary of $19.5 Million (Forbes Magazine). He was another athlete who did not have financial issues as a child but decided to forego college and chose to accept the offer of playing in the professional basketball league immediately following high school. He was offered $30 million to play straight out of high school (Dwight Howard 2013).
Tracy McGrady grew up in Florida. He lived with his mother and grandmother. Tracy's father was not involved in his life. When he was offered $70 million for a six year contract, the choice was an easy one to make. This gave him the opportunity to take care of his mother and grandmother (Tracy McGrady ).
A famous athlete that did not obtain a degree but invested his money wisely was Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Earvin Johnson, Jr. grew up in Lansing, Michigan. He had nine siblings. A father with a blue-collar position with a major motor company and a mother who was a school custodian, life wasn't easy for this athlete. He was an athlete that beat the odds against him. He attended college at Michigan State to be closer to home. His sophomore year, he was drafted to the Los Angeles Lakers. He retired from basketball in 1991 when he revealed his contraction of the AIDS virus (Earvin "Magic" Johnson). Since then, he worked strongly for the cause of HIV and AIDS by starting the Magic Johnson Foundation. (The Magic Johnson Foundation). After retirement, he wrote a book, did sports commentating and he has also built a business empire of a net worth of over $500 million (Magic Johnson's Worth). Magic Johnson Enterprises consists of real estate, many franchises and movie theaters. His main focus for these businesses was developing urban areas and bringing stores such as Starbuck franchises to underprivileged areas. His success is phenomenal.
These athletes were very young when offered such high revenues. It would be hard for anyone to think past the current moment when such a high revenue possibility is in front of them. They cannot think past the current moment. Though Kobe Bryant came from a well-off family background, many of the other players came from single parent homes and lived in poverty. These athletes were offered more money for their rookie year than most people make in a lifetime. Being motivated to obtain a college degree was not a priority. Most of these players placed the plan to get a degree on the back burner or worse, did not give obtaining a degree another thought.
Not having the motivation academically to complete a degree program, these athletes did not consider having a backup plan for when their athletic careers end. They assume that they will play long enough to retire with such a grand amount of money that they will be set for life. But the truth of the matter is that many athletes find themselves in a financially bind because they did not take the necessary steps to plan accordingly for their future after playing sports.
In the ESPN Films documentary titled "30 for 30: Broke" Director Billy Corben explores the roads to fortune in American sports and eventually, the many detours to bankruptcy. This short film shares the lives of many athletes who speak freely about the challenges they faced trying to manage their money. These athletes were very informative and shared all the mistakes they made when they accepted offers with payments they would have never thought they would be able to obtain. The athletes within this film did not prepare for the end of their professional sport career. They were careless because they did not have any money management skills (Corben).
Unless an athlete leaves their career with many endorsements and smart investments, they will find it hard to survive financially. Trying to keep up with the lifestyles they were accustomed to can cause many athletes physical and emotional stress issues. "By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or under financial stress... Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke." (Torre)
Investing is an unfamiliar area for most athletes, especially those without any financial knowledge or discipline. Athletes fall in the hands of hungry people needing money to invest in their products. "Disreputable people see athletes' money as very easy to get to," says Steven Baker, an agent who represents 20 NFL players. In May 2007, former quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer and five other NFL retirees invested at least $100,000 a piece in a now-defunct start-up called Pay By Touch - which touted "biometric authentication" technology that would help replace credit cards with fingerprints - even as the company was wracked by lawsuits and internal dissent. (The players later sued the financial-services firm UBS, which had encouraged its clients to invest in Pay By Touch, for allegedly withholding information about the company founder's criminal history and drug use.)." (Torre)
Priorities need to be reorganized. Having a degree as a professional athlete will allow that athlete to plan for their future. Though many athletes do invest their money wisely, many do not. Having a business degree can assist an athlete to make better choices with their finances to prepare for their future and the future of their families. There are many athletes who majored in business who have had the opportunity to invest their money wisely to start businesses.
There are more opportunities for someone with a business degree within a corporation. Most of the time, student athletes are pulled toward exercise science and sport management because of the athletic appeal associated with these degree programs. It would make good sense for a student athlete to major in an area that they would enjoy. It would be more detrimental to a student athlete if they did not complete some form of a degree program.
Dr. Alduan Tartt, a psychologist from Decatur, Georgia, created a short post on "Youtube" stating his personal opinions on an athletes' financial negligence. "Why Professional Athletes Should Finish College to Avoid Being Broke" shares a lot of common sense decisions that most athletes do not recognize. "The average play time for a professional athlete playing in the NFL is 2.5 years. The average pay for player is $1.9 Million. After spending over half the , total pay of $4.75 million on materialistic items, only $1.65 million to live off of for the next forty years. That breaks down to $41,000 per year. How can an athlete earn more money without a degree?" (Tartt)
An athlete that graduated from college with a degree and built an empire with major endorsements and wise investments was Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina. He enrolled at the University of North Carolina in 1981. While attending the University of North Carolina, he was drafted to the NBA in his junior year of college. Unlike Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan played in the NBA and completed his degree program. He majored in Cultural Geography from the University of North Carolina. When drafted to the Chicago Bulls, he was offered $550,000 annually. The majority of Michael Jordan's revenue came from endorsements. Nike signed Michael Jordan to a 5 year contract paying him $2.5 million. It then grew to $18 million for 10 years. He was also endorsed by Hanes and Gatorade. Hanes paid Michael Jordan $20 million annually and Gatorade paid him $80 million annually. Michael Jordan decided to retire from basketball in the 1992-93 seasons because of the death of his father. He went on to play minor league baseball for a short time. He returned to the NBA and then he left the NBA in 2003 being paid an annual salary of $1.3 million (Michael Jordan 2013).
Why does an athlete make the decision to become professional without obtaining a degree? There are many factors in the decision-making of an athlete. In choosing to become professional without obtaining a degree, all these athletes seem to have a mutual reason for making the decision; the financial awards are unmistakably the main motivation. Though some athletes make good decisions to wisely invest their money, others find it difficult to maintain they lifestyle they were accustomed to while playing professional sports. For those who have struggled after their professional career, they did not have a back-up plan once their careers ended. Most of these athletes did have a strong family foundation. The issue is financially, they could not pass up the opportunity to financial freedom. It would be a difficult decision for anyone to make if given the opportunity to play a professional sport. I would hope that going forward, athletes would consider making the decision of completing a degree program. Today, if an offer is placed before an athlete, it would be advantages for that athlete to find a way to do both. Using Michael Jordan as an example, it is possible to accomplish.