Money Smart Athlete Blog

The dark side of athletes’ excessive wealth and fame

By Panayiotis Constantinou, Contributor

Athletes are some of the highest-paid individuals globally, with some earning millions of dollars annually in salaries, sponsorships, and endorsements. However, excessive wealth and fame have a dark side, which can affect athletes negatively. Henceforth, this article shall explore the negative consequences that can arise from an athlete’s excessive wealth and fame, using examples of both male and female athletes.

Among the most significant negative consequences of excessive wealth and fame is the pressure and scrutiny that athletes face. For example, Naomi Osaka, a professional tennis player, withdrew from the French Open in 2021, citing mental health issues related to media scrutiny and the pressure to perform at the highest level. Similarly, Michael Phelps, a retired Olympic swimmer, has spoken publicly about his struggles with anxiety and depression related to the pressure to perform at the highest level. Further, the potential for financial mismanagement constitutes a large aspect of ‘the dark side’. For instance, according to a report by ESPN, 60% of NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. This is due to a lack of financial education and knowledge necessary to manage their money effectively. Examples of athletes who have fallen victim to financial mismanagement, include former NFL player Warren Sapp and former NBA player Antoine Walker.

Athletes who are excessively wealthy and famous may also become disconnected from reality. For example, Conor McGregor, a former UFC champion, has been involved in several altercations outside the octagon due to his sense of entitlement and lack of empathy for others. Additionally, excessive wealth and fame can lead to isolation from friends and family, leading to loneliness and a sense of emptiness. Examples of athletes who have experienced this include Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps, who struggled with loneliness and isolation after retiring from swimming.  This can be further exemplified through excessive wealth and fame leading to disillusionment and dissatisfaction. For example, Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medallist, has spoken publicly about her struggles with mental health and her decision to withdraw from several events at the 2021 Olympics due to mental health concerns. Similarly, former NFL player Barry Sanders retired from the sport at the height of his career, citing a lack of fulfilment despite his success on the field.

Incontrovertibly, excessive wealth and fame can also lead to addiction and substance abuse. For instance, former NFL player Johnny Manziel has publicly spoken about his struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, which he attributes in part to the pressures of being a highly paid athlete. Similarly, former tennis player Jennifer Capriati struggled with substance abuse issues related to the pressure to perform at the highest level.

It is of paramount importance, therefore, to conclude that while the wealth and fame that athletes experience can bring many benefits, there is also a dark side to this excess. Indeed, this article has presented the thesis that athletes may face pressure, scrutiny, financial mismanagement, disconnection from reality, addiction and substance abuse, as well as disillusionment and dissatisfaction in general. It is vital for athletes – thereinafter – to be aware of these potential negative consequences and to take steps to manage their wealth and fame in a responsible and healthy way. Additionally, it is important for society as a whole to recognize the pressures that athletes face and to provide support and resources to help them cope with these pressures. By doing so, we can help ensure that athletes can enjoy the benefits of their success without succumbing to the negative consequences of excessive wealth and fame.

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