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Divorce in The NFL

Clarkston Legal Aug. 14, 2009

Maximum temptation; continuous travel; lots of money. These are just some of the factors that contribute to the excessive divorce-rate among players in the NFL.

There are no solid statistics, but an unofficial poll along with anecdotal evidence puts the divorce-rate for NFL players at 70% according to a recent NYT article; significantly higher than the overall divorce-rate of about 50%.

Another statistic, perhaps correlated to the high rate of divorce among players, is that within two-years of their retirement, a shocking 78% of these NFL players are bankrupt, unemployed or divorced. There are good reasons for this.

Among professional athletes, football players have a rough row to hoe. They suffer more physical pain on average than in other sports due to the aggressive high-speed nature of their game. They have the shortest average career among all pro athletes; three and a half seasons according to the Players’ Association. Contracts for the average player, while lucrative, are usually non-guaranteed and contain significant injury clauses. These stressors can transfer to the player’s marriage.

The recent shooting death of one of the league’s preeminent quarterbacks, Steve McNair, brings to a head the significance of an NFL player’s retirement. McNair was widely perceived as the consummate family man. Married, but killed by his girlfriend, he is one player who sadly will not be adding to the NFL divorce-rate.

Most of us would blame McNair for his own fate. Some insiders, on the other hand, point to several factors that increase the toxicity of marriages among NFL players: rampant infidelity, the “trophy-wife” concept, women who target professional athletes, player entourages that tend to suppress the intimacy required if a marriage is to work.

Perhaps most significant is the painful transition of the athlete from the gridiron to retirement. Issues of self-worth come into play among a group of macho athletes not used to focused self-awareness and who have a seemingly genetic resistance to counseling.

Mothers, don’t let your girls grow-up to be NFL wives…