In November of last year, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox publically announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2016 season. A renowned left-handed batter known infamously for his power-hitting abilities, Big Papi has indeed come a long way in his professional baseball career. In 2004, he played a major role in the Red Sox’s World Series victory (the first in nearly a century) and completed 2015 with a solid record of 37 home runs (among them, his career 500th) and over 100 runs-batted-in. Now, at 40 years of age, Ortiz has expressed his desire to conclude his career as an all-star athlete and begin a new chapter of his life.
In sports, player retirement is often a subject of much disappointment among fans and a necessary eventuality among players. Even the most gifted athletes will have to face it someday. Yet, as a marginalized component of professional sports with little bearing on the competition itself, retirement is not a commonly discussed topic amid sports enthusiasts. Are there rules? What happens to athletes afterwards? How does it work?
What Retirement Means
The first thing to be realized about retirement in professional sports is that no league is the same; salary plans differ in type and payout, and the requirements that must be fulfilled by each athlete in order to receive benefits are generally unique.
How the Big Leagues Do It
The NFL: The National Football League requires 3 credited seasons for an athlete to be eligible for full retirement benefits included in their pension plan. The minimum monthly payout for this pension is $200, but can potentially vary based on the number of years the athlete has been an active member of the league. Benefits will scale up to account for players in later years of the sport. The NFL also features a 401(k) program and an annuity plan as potential supplements.
MLB: It is not uncommon for Major League Baseball athletes to retire in their 20s-30s. MLB’s retirement pensions are particularly generous. Players are only required to play for 43 days in the major leagues to be fully vested. With over 10 seasons, benefits rise to six-figures!
The NBA: The National Basketball Association provides retirement benefits to players that spend at least 3 years in service. The minimum age these pro-basketball players can begin collection their pension is at 50. However, the NBA extends benefits if a player does not collect until turning 62. Benefits grow per season active until capped at 11 seasons.
MLS: Perhaps the most dramatically different from most other major leagues, Major League Soccer’s pension plan is relatively new, only first being implemented in 2004, and permits its players to allocate an amount of their salary up to a cap set by the IRS. Some critics claim that the extent of MLS’s benefits fall short compared to other pro-sports.
The NHL: The National Hockey League requires players to play 160 games to be eligible for a pension of about $50,000 in 2012. However, as with many other professional sports organizations, this can scale based on service.
Other professional sports leagues also have varying plans. One thing, however, is certain: a professional career in sports normally does an excellent job of seeing each of its players through financial stability later on in life.