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Warren Sapp, Allen Iverson, and the Tragedy of the Riches-to-Rags Athlete

How should fans feel when sports stars go broke, cheat on their wives, or otherwise embarrass themselves?

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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), and Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) talk about the rash of recent athlete embarrassments.


Hey, guys,

Warren Sapp is broke. TMZ first reported on court documents filed in Fort Lauderdale showing the former NFL star and (for the moment) TV analyst owes more than $6.7 million. Sapp is not alone, of course. Allen Iverson can't pay back a $850,000 jewelry debt. Terrell Owens told GQ earlier this year that he's friendless and broke, unable to pay the child support he owes. According to a in-depth 2009 Sports Illustrated story, 78 percent of former NFL players are in serious financial trouble within two years of retirement. The NBA numbers are much the same.

The first gut reaction is to feel bad or these guys. Something deep in the fan's heart is offended by the thought of a broke former star, probably because being mega-rich is a big part of the dream of being a pro athlete—the fantasy that sacrificing youth and health to the game can win a big enough prize to sustain you for a lifetime. Besides, most of the athletes who blow their vast fortunes come from terribly impoverished backgrounds. They have no experience handling money, and so make incredibly easy prey for unscrupulous friends or bad financial advice.

But I don't feel sorry for Sapp, or most of the other guys who go broke. A bad childhood isn't enough to explain why Sapp's assets include a lion-skin rug and an Imedla Marcos-like 240 pairs of Air Jordans. More importantly, a bad childhood might explain, but can never excuse, Sapp's failure to care for his six children, two by a now-former wife.

And let's keep in mind, none of these guys are going to be begging for change on the street. The former Buc and Raider listed his average monthly income as $115,881. That includes, by the way, a $48,000 celebrity appearance fee. Yes, the man will make $48,000 in a few hours, literally, just for showing up. Poor baby.

How about fellas? Do you feel bad for guys who blow $50 mil? Or, like me, do you gleefully revel in the delicious schadenfreude of seeing the financial face-plants?

–Hampton

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Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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