Money Doesn’t Equal Happiness — Even in the NFL

For many boys growing up, playing pro football is the dream. They grow up watching touchdowns being celebrated on television – oftentimes fixating on the glamour and money that stereotypically comes with playing for the NFL.

What they don’t see is the grind – the long hours and the devastation that occurs when a player gets cut. And it’s not always because of a lack of ability. Instead it’s based on current team need or numbers.

And as wide receiver, L’Damian Washington learned, changes can occur as quickly as the following week. He played for four different NFL teams in 2014 and is here to share his story.

L’Damian knows that his worth and happiness come from more than money – his recent tweet conveys these sentiments exactly:


Money doesn’t in fact buy happiness, but it does make life easier at times. It all depends what one has to trade for money. Time, health, relationships – oftentimes these things aren’t worth it in the long run.

I got the opportunity to interview L’Damian recently and enjoyed getting to know the man behind the NFL mask. Here are four life lessons I don’t think we can hear enough.

1. People Can Triumph in the Face of Adversity
L’Damian was the third of four boys. His father was murdered when he was a small child and his mother, Sonya, passed away from a stroke when he was just 15. His eldest brother was 19 at the time and a new father himself.

When Sonya was alive she lived for her boys and provided for them accordingly. She gave them both financial and emotional support and made sure they never went without. They didn’t talk much about money at home, but the boys never worried where their next meal would come from, either.

Anyone would agree that Washington was dealt a tough hand, but he didn’t let that keep him from realizing both his and his mother’s dreams for him and their family. He went on to graduate high school and then college and ended the 2014 NFL season as a part of the Miami Dolphins.

2. Family Means More than Money
L’Damian didn’t work during the high school season – athletics and especially academics trumped the need for additional pocket money. After his mom passed, he got a job working for the same hospital she used to and set aside nearly every penny in a savings account.

L’Damian and his brothers rarely fought, but when they did, it was about money. How to spend their Social Security checks, why the water got shut off and who should figure it out. When they got evicted, it was L’Damian’s summer income that helped them to find a new place to live and pay the rent.

When I asked him if he held any resentment toward his brothers for this, he simply said that the money doesn’t matter. The fact that he worked 40 hours a week all summer long was more than worth it to be able to provide for his family – even if that wasn’t its intended purpose.

3. Not All Pro Athletes Blow their Paychecks
Not only was L’Damian able to save money as a teenager, his self-control and financial savviness hasn’t changed since he entered the NFL. Washington is on the practice squad (hoping to make the active roster next season) and therefore doesn’t have a guaranteed contract or paycheck.

Active NFL players earn a base salary of $420,000 per year. This drops to $120,000 if you’re on the practice squad and pay is week-to-week, stopping if you get dropped from the team or when the season ends.

“Being in the NFL is kind of like the Hunger Games, each day you’re just trying to survive. You can get a phone call saying you’re released at any time.”

Both his alma mater (Missouri) and the NFL have programs to help teach players how to handle their money if they get called up to the big leagues. He talked favorably of both and says he still has 90% of his income from this last season.

4. There’s Life After the NFL
For L’Damian, the NFL isn’t the end goal. When asked what he’ll do if he gets injured or voluntarily/involuntarily retires, he cited coaching college football as his dream job.

Although playing pro football is amazing and provides a nice bankroll, it’s not the end of the line for L’Damian. He listened to his mom and got an education (his degree is in Psychology and he plans to go back for his master’s), so he could provide for himself and later for his future family.

In Conclusion
Life’s about more than just money. For Washington it’s about happiness. He knows what it’s like to have just a dollar in his pocket and now to have tens of thousands of dollars in the bank.

Even though he didn’t grow up knowing a lot about money, thanks to his self-discipline, college education and classes offered by the NFL, he’s since been able to expand his horizons. Although L’Damian doesn’t have to have money to feel happy, now when he looks at his accounts, he wants to know how to continue to build them up, rather than spend them down.

If Washington can go from an evicted and orphaned teenager in the projects to an NFL wide receiver with the majority of his salary in the bank, the rest of us should be able to up our spending and savings game too!

Do you feel like the way you were (or weren’t) taught about money has impacted the way you spend and save money as an adult?

Photo Credit: Content All Stars (with permission)

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