The money they spend
Here's part of an email I received this morning from a friend of mine, a business reporter, in response to today's Darren McCarty story:
I find it truly astounding how pro athletes can burn through so much money. ... I guess that's what happens when guys with limited educations, especially about how finance works, suddenly find themselves millionaires.That's exactly what it is, and McCarty's far from the first. In fact, I would argue that overspending is endemic to pro athletes, especially those from low-income backgrounds. And, unlike other countries where hockey is played by only the wealthy, many Canadian NHLers fall into that category. It's still, in large part, a working-class group making up this league.
Growing up in British Columbia's Interior, where a lot of players are either from or played their junior hockey, you would often run into examples of this. Many guys spent their summers in the Interior, sitting at the lake and hitting the clubs. Stories got around.
I remember one instance, about five years ago, a friend of mine — a guy who's not a hockey fan — had the chance to party with a young NHL player, a former first-round pick then in his early 20s. One of this guy's 'party tricks' was apparently to bet people on the amount of his paycheque.
Of course, this meant a pay stub was on hand to settle the debate, which apparently said this fellow made $25,000 every two weeks during the season.
Not a bad living, wouldn't you say?
And, at the end of the night, our NHL friend picked up the $10,000 tab.
Many NHLers simply don't know how to deal with their enormous wealth, and McCarty's just the latest to run into financial difficulty. The smart players hire financial advisors early in their career — but even then, they often end up with the wrong help. Recall, Mike Modano's financial difficulties from the 2003-04 season, when he reportedly lost more than $5-million — at the time, a huge portion of his invested savings.
We've also heard of Jaromir Jagr's gambling debts, reported to be more than $2-million in 2004. In 2001, the IRS filed a $3.27-million lien against Jagr for unpaid taxes. (A pro hockey player and near-millionaire since he was an awkward 19-year-old from the Czech Republic, Jagr is a 34-year-old man whose mother still lives with and takes care of him.)
Former Hall of Famer Brian Trottier lost everything in the early 90s and was reportedly $10-million in debt and near suicide when he filed for bankruptcy in 1994.
And on and on the list goes.
But the Modanos and Jagrs are the game's superstars, the guys who can afford to drop a few million and not have it hurt their bottom line. The guys who really have a tough time in this culture are the third-liners like McCarty, who have spent a lifetime trying to 'catch-up' to their wealthier teammates. "If Chris Chelios can afford a $10,000 dinner, well, then, so can I."
Playing in the NHL is a life of excess, at least before these guys retire, and a few guys get left behind. McCarty's just one of them.
I don't think anyone's going to let him pick up the tab any time soon.