All boys dream of certain careers: Fireman, astronaut, cowboy, space cowboy on fire, and most of all, football player. Playing football in the backyard is fun, so playing football for a career must be fun, right? I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, little Jimmy, but it’s not that simple. Being a professional football player requires tremendous intelligence, hard work, strength, speed, willpower, connections, genetics, and more luck than Lucky Luciano had the day he beat seven leprechauns in the Rabbit Foot Eating Contest at the International Horseshoe Festival.
There must be some rabbit feet in there somewhere…
When we say “football,” we’re referring to American football, with the helmets and shoulder pads and the drunken fans in the stands yelling insults about the coach’s upbringing, not European football, with the goalies and the yellow cards and the drunken fans in the stands yelling insults about the coach’s upbringing. And don’t start up with the argument about which one is “real” football. They’re both real. They’re different, but they have the same name. It’s like the thick wedge-cut heavily seasoned French fries at Red Robin and the thin crispy shoestring French fries at BJ’s Brewhouse—they’re all French fries, and they’re all tasty, so let’s get on with our lives, okay? (For more information about Red Robin, BJ’s, and waiting tables at other restaurants, see our article on careers in acting.)
The National Football League (NFL) is the most prosperous and best-known professional football league in the world—it’s the Michael Jordan of football leagues. Shmoop’s articles on the history of the NFL provide plenty of additional information. Numerous other leagues exist, including the United Football League and the Stars Football League, and Arena Football leagues (where everything is exactly like outdoor football except for the field size, the number of players, the offense, the defense, and the special teams), but many of them last no more than a year or two and offer almost no money, absolutely no prestige, and even less job security. Options for women are even more limited, including the Independent Women’s Football League or the Lingerie Football League. And that should be enough to make anyone with a daughter cry just a little.
The common notion of life in the NFL is one of chartered planes and fancy hotels, steak dinners with an array of the fanciest wines and cheeses, working sixteen days a year, and cashing an oversized novelty check with more than a handful of zeroes. The common notion is wrong—at the highest levels, professional football players are well-compensated, but work hard year-round to make a living while trading their present and future health for a normal-sized check. In every other league, from arena football on down to semipro, the compensation is low or nonexistent, but the injuries aren’t.
When you fall off the horse, get right back up on that skateboard.