NFL players learning how not to go broke – with the help of MBAs

Story highlights

NFL players becoming business savvy

League pays for continuing education

Head injury awareness part of career planning

CNN  — 

Last month, the Detroit Lions made their 29-year-old franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford the best-paid player in NFL history, inking a $135 million contract that included a $50 million signing bonus.

Until recently, bets might have been taken as to just how long that money would last him.

Not anymore.

While pro athletes have been mismanaging their finances for decades, a combination of the realization of health risks and greater financial savvy have led many of Stafford’s NFL contemporaries to reverse that trend.

“I saved (my first pay check),” says retired 11-year veteran Osi Umenyiora, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants after being drafted in 2003.

“I was really smart about my money, because the knowledge had started to come out (that) a lot of players were going broke.”

During the tail end of his career, Umenyiora, who was born in London and raised in Nigeria, launched a financial planning company for African-born NFL players with the help of his brother.

“I was given a lot of advice from former players,” Umenyiora tells CNN, noting that his one big purchase as a rookie was the house he lived in, calling it a “win-win situation” as an investment.

“The NFL really tried to harp on you not going broke because they don’t want to see that statistic.”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 01:  Osi Umenyiora #72 of the New York Giants reacts after a tackle against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Two-time Super Bowl champion on NFL at Wembley
02:40 - Source: CNN

The dreaded 78%

“That statistic” Umenyiora refers to was spawned from a 2009 Sports Illustrated article that claimed 78% of NFL players were penniless only a few years out of retirement.

The 2012 ESPN documentary Broke, which chronicled the financial ruin of several high-profile athletes, only reinforced that idea.

More recently, a New York Times article that profiled the 25 first-rounders drafted in 1990, uncovered that seven had encountered severe financial distress, while one, former Los Angeles Raider Anthony Smith, was convicted of murder.

Tragically, the most famous member of that class, Hall of Famer Junior Seau, committed suicide and was later diagnosed with CTE, a degenerative disease caused by head injuries. Seau, a linebacker, played 20 NFL seasons and was known for his vicious hits.

With those stories ingrained in this generation of players, you’re now as likely to see a gridiron star interning on Wall Street as you would be bumping into a shirtless Rob Gronkowski racking up a reported $100,000 tab at a nightclub.

Thirty-five year-old Umenyiora says he had his own financial adviser out of college who assisted him, and cites star teammate Michael Strahan –