A professional athlete comes clean, brazenly revealing the truth of a life lived bathing in riches…
by: Chris Klassen
One of the most common questions people ask me is how did I spend the money from my first paycheck. I always answer honestly and then await their reaction. The truth is I called up a few of my friends, we went to Las Vegas, and we blew it on gambling, call girls, and cocaine. There, I secured a five thousand square-foot suite in one of the high-end casinos. It had a fireplace, a fully-stocked bar, a pool table, and the most awesome view of the Strip you can imagine. Oh, and we rented a Ferrari for a couple days too. What would you like me to have done instead, start my own foundation to help poor kids in third world countries or to save animals from circuses and theme parks? Sorry for disappointing you. It all went to pure hedonism.
The backstory, which you might know already, is that I was drafted in the first round. Second pick in the first round, selected by a team whose owner had more money than God and less sense than a piece of wood. He had never worked a day in his life. Born into a billionaire family, he was able to convince his dad that buying a professional football team would be fun. Craftily, he surrounded himself with people who actually knew the industry and then sat back and made more money. The amount of my contract was peanuts for them but it was massive for me.
Not that I wasn’t doing pretty well already. In college, I had set all the school records for passing yards, touchdowns, and number of wins. I won championships and multiple MVP awards. So I got paid. The standard line back then was that college athletes were amateur but don’t be fooled, all the good ones got compensated one way or another. It was just done on the sly and we were told point blank not to buy anything extravagant. Bringing unnecessary attention would just be shooting ourselves in the foot. Spend like crazy later, they would say. I earned about a million dollars in college. I earned more than two hundred times that amount as a pro.
And I did spend like crazy. By the time I had been in the league for three years, my contract, along with endorsements, had provided me more money than I knew what to do with. I was warned to be careful, to put some of it away for the future, which I did. I invested some of the money, amassed some real estate. I wouldn’t still be sitting in this twenty thousand square-foot house if I had spent it all frivolously. I even have art on my walls, and I’m not an art person at all. But an advisor told me that fine art always gains value, so I bought a couple. One is by a guy named Basquiat. He’s dead now, I think. It looks like it was painted by a five year-old, to be honest, but apparently it’s considered “fine” so I bought it. The amount it’s worth now is, frankly, absurd. I have a bit of a wine collection too. Spent eight thousand dollars on a bottle of red once. It’s in the cellar somewhere. The dumbest thing I ever bought was a diamond-encrusted necklace with my initials on it the size of golf balls. Even I have to admit that was over-the-top ridiculous. Three hundred grand. It’s in a box in one of my closets.
My real passion was cars. I’ve had so many over the years. At one time, I even considered renting an airplane hangar so I could store them all but it never got that far. I had enough room to park them in my garages and on my driveway. I think my favorite were the Bentleys. Those things were ultra-deluxe. But I certainly can’t complain about the others: Maserati, Rolls Royce, Porsche, Lamborghini — at one point or another, I’ve had them all. Once I bought a car, I think it was the highest-end Mercedes, drove it for a week, and then sold it back to the dealer. It wasn’t their normal practice to take returns but they weren’t going to say no to me. It would have been bad publicity.
The amazing thing wasn’t just that I was able to live like this and do anything I wanted. A few other players in the league were making similar money to me too, or close enough to have the same kind of lifestyle. No, the really amazing thing was that I was able to do it for so long. I never got injured during my entire career. Well, nothing serious anyway, a few bruises, a couple dislocated fingers, a little sprain here and there. But I played virtually every game every year, regular season and playoffs, which meant I just kept on getting paid. Once I started breaking records, all the bonuses kicked in too. The few games that I did miss were for “illness.” Anytime you hear that a player is out because of “illness,” it almost never is really an “illness.” They’re either hungover or a bit strung out. So when I missed games, this was why. But it was only a few times over my entire career so no big deal. The team had no option but to look the other way because I was the reason they were winning and they weren’t going to jeopardize that.
I don’t want to give the impression that there weren’t some potential career-ending moments though because there were. I remember one game in Philadelphia. The play had just begun and I was dropping back ready to pass when I got hit from behind. The guy that hit me was an absolute behemoth, well over three hundred pounds, and super-fast as well. He hit me so hard in the back that I actually bent like a paperclip. It was brutal. Even today, sports highlight shows like to show it. They call it one of the most violent hits in history. For most players, it would have been the end. Their back would have snapped in two and they never would have played again. But I didn’t even feel it. I can’t explain why. I got up off the ground, told everyone I was fine, called the next play, and the game went on. Never missed a beat. I still have a copy of that game on video and, when I watch it, I actually cringe. It just looks so disturbing. But it didn’t even hurt. Crazy. If you thought I felt immortal before the hit, imagine how I felt after? I literally was unbreakable.
So if everything was so perfect, if I was so superhuman, why did I retire? That’s another common question I get. I could have kept playing, probably for another five years if I wanted, but really I was just starting to get annoyed. Not with the games and the competition, I still loved that. But with all the stuff that people don’t see: the six AM meetings, the constant travel, the workouts and physio treatments and ice baths and media obligations. One day it was no longer worth it. I played out the final year of my contract, won the championship again, won the MVP again, got loads of bonus money again, and then that was that. I announced my retirement and went home.
Once my football career was over, I continued to be a fortunate son in so many other ways. Commercials, personal appearances where billionaires would pay me a stupid amount of money to visit to their mansion and play catch with their son, movie cameos where I’d get a million dollars for ten minutes of screen time, commission from jersey sales and signed footballs. Everything was gold. The ironic thing that always baffled me was that, the more money and fame you have, the less of your own money you actually have to spend. Fashion designers send me free clothes because it’s great publicity for them if I’m seen at a club, where I never have to pay the cover, wearing their stuff. Restaurant owners offer to pay for my meals so they can show me off as a regular patron. I can’t even remember the last time I left a tip. It’s like at the Academy Awards where all the millionaire actors get gift bags with forty grand worth of products. We’re the last people in the world who need to get things for free and yet it’s all thrown at us every other day.
I have to admit that, watching games from my couch in my first year of retirement was a bit odd, especially when my old team was playing. I knew I could do far better than the young buck they brought in to replace me. Seeing my former teammates on the field sometimes made me a little nostalgic too. But it never was a regret and it didn’t last long. It just felt a bit strange at the beginning, that’s all.
Now, after eight years of retirement, not quite a young man anymore, not in as good shape, obviously, as I was before, this is usually the point in the story where people expect my epiphany, my eureka moment. They want to hear about the morning that I woke up and realized that everything in my life had been shallow and meaningless. They want to hear how I finally started a foundation or how I made my first trip to Africa to dig wells or build schools. They wait for me to describe tender-heartedly and with tears in my eyes how my new perspective has finally given me a real purpose in life and a real reason to get up in the morning. Helping people, they want me to say, that’s the real beauty. Money is nice, they want me to say, but virtue and generosity, those are the real riches.
Problem is I’m not going to say it and I never will. When I wake up in the morning, every morning, I smile with the knowledge that I can do whatever I want whenever I want. I can buy anything I want without a moment’s thought. If I want to go to Paris for dinner, I do. If I want to rent a private jet and go golfing with a few friends at Pebble Beach, I’ll make it happen. It’s total freedom. You can have your morals and your selflessness and your high expectations and your idealism, but you’re probably reading this in a coffee shop and wondering if you really should have spent your last three dollars on that cappuccino. Only chumps live like that. I’ll take my fame and fortune any day of the week. I’ve never been married and I have no kids. Everything I have is all mine.
Chris Klassen is a hobbyist writer and resident of Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in history and living for a year in France and England, he returned home and worked the majority of his career in print media. He is now living a semi-retired life, writing and looking for new ideas. His work has been published in the online journals Short Circuit and Unlikely Stories.