As a young athlete, living a life full of fame and riches may seem like a dream come true, but that might not be the best case scenario for some immature athletes experiencing their first taste of the spotlight.
While being eligible to be drafted into a professional sports league from either high school or college means age can range anywhere from 18 to 23, all of these athletes have not yet experienced a life without schoolwork and classes. In some cases when joining these professional teams, rookies are becoming teammates with mature, veteran players who have been in their respective leagues for multiple years and already know how to handle the fame.
On Monday, March 27, the Oakland Raiders got the approval from the NFL to move the franchise to Las Vegas after an overwhelming 31–1 vote from team owners. The owners persuaded the league that having a team in Las Vegas would allow for them to capitalize on the city’s booming tourist trade and image of excitement, according to the New York Times.
Although the Raiders have one of the most loyal and passionate fan bases in all of professional sports, their move to Vegas, set for 2019, may backfire in the long run.
“The Raider nation is the last of the blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth fan bases, and it absolutely breaks my heart to lose this team,” said Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, in a New York Times interview.
A Good Morning Football episode led to a discussion about young players living in Las Vegas and how the majority of NFL draft prospects who are leaving college have never been to Vegas before.
“Your first experience in the city is either playing for the Vegas Raiders or traveling there as an opposing team, and you’re seeing the bright lights and the big city, the glitz and glamour, the party, the girls, the night life, and you have to make a decision. Do I be a professional tonight, or do I party tonight?” said Nate Burleson, an NFL Network analyst and former player.
“At 21, a veteran wouldn’t be able to tell me I can’t go out and enjoy the nightlife. I’m a professional for a reason. I earned this money and I earned the right to spend it however I want,” he went on to say.
Some current NFL players have also chimed in on the news of the Raiders moving to Vegas and the impact on young players new to the league.
“I think it could be a tough place for a kid coming out of college, so that locker room has to be strong because there’s access to so much,” said New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall in an interview with ESPN.
“Las Vegas is a beautiful place. A lot of times when you think of Las Vegas you think of the strip. It’s a strip but it’s really big and it can be overwhelming at times for young immature players.”
With the major move of a franchise like the Raiders, we can expect there to be many challenges and obstacles until the franchise learns how to successfully manage an NFL team in a city like Las Vegas. With a new city comes a new fan base, new roadblocks for the entire franchise, new merchandising and licensing agreements, as well as new stadiums to be built and new branding strategies to be learned. More importantly, it is a brand new lifestyle for the young players on the team. While living in a city like Las Vegas, it opens one’s eyes to a whole new world of risks for rookies and inexperienced players.
In the past, we have seen young athletes from both high school and college get their foot in the door of the major professional sporting leagues, but some have gone down the wrong path after being exposed to the limelight.
Matt Bush, the number one overall pick for the San Diego Padres in the 2004 MLB draft, had one of the greatest opportunities of any high school player who dreamt about playing at the major league level. He had the opportunity to go down the path of superstardom in the MLB after signing for $3.15 million, but he decided to take another path during his career. This path was much tougher and darker than most.
Once signing with the Padres, his run-ins with the police began to tally up. Just two weeks after the draft, he was arrested for getting drunk and biting a bouncer at a nightclub. In the years that followed, he got in trouble three times for driving drunk, a second time for fighting in a bar and three times for various other offenses within a four-month period in 2009. Then he had three more run-ins, including assaulting high school students, throwing a baseball at a woman who had allegedly drawn on his face when he was passed out at a party and swinging his belt at a moving car, according to ESPN.
He was blowing his chances on the field, and he was running out of options as he moved from team to team. In 2009, he was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays, but they released him within the first month and he was picked up by the Tampa Bay Rays nine months later.
By then, he had wasted all of his money, according to ESPN. He bought a Range Rover for $75,000, then a BMW, then an Escalade, then an Audi, a Bentley and four or five different Mercedeses. Although it seemed like Bush was living a lavish lifestyle full of fame and fancy cars, that was certainly not the case.
“I was depressed. I was going to kill myself or die or do something,” said Bush in an interview with ESPN. “When I was the first pick and I wasn’t performing the way a first pick should have, I couldn’t handle it. I felt like a failure.”
His worst offense occurred in 2012 when he borrowed his teammate’s car to drive home from practice, which was just a half a mile away.
Bush ended up buying beer at a gas station 40 miles away and was kicked out of a strip club for trying to climb onstage. Then he got behind the wheel of his teammate’s car after blacking out due to alcohol intoxication, according to ESPN. He backed into a car on an illegal U-turn, then hit a light pole, and in an effort to flee, knocked a 72-year-old man from his motorcycle. He left the scene after running over the man’s head with the vehicle. Bush left the man unconscious on the asphalt with a brain hemorrhage, a collapsed lung, fractures in his face, cracked ribs and eight broken vertebrae.
The police eventually caught up to Bush and charged him with three felonies. He was ultimately sentenced to serve 51 months in a Florida prison.
“Those were my devils: money, fame and expectations,” said Bush. “I was hollow inside.”
Young players are not used to having all of this money right in the palm of their hand. They are set up to fail and make mistakes. Then, if you add a culture like Las Vegas, New York City or Los Angeles, the issues can begin to add up. You are just adding fuel to the fire.
Essentially, many young athletes are leaping from rags to riches, feeling like they have won the lottery and they have enough money to buy whatever they want, whenever they want. You could be the last guy on the roster of a professional franchise, but if you want to feel like a superstar, you have the ability to at any moment. If the money is there right in front of you as a young professional athlete, the temptation to spend it is enormous. The pressure to be one of the superstars is high, and it is hard for rookies and young talent not to succumb to it.