Actor Terry Crews learned the hard way that playing in the National Football League doesn’t guarantee a big paycheck.
After being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1991, Crews spent five years bouncing between six professional teams, including one in Germany. During a practice squad stint with the Green Bay Packers in 1993, he spent six months living and working out in Wisconsin making just $150 per week, he recently told Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast.
“I would have made more money at McDonald’s,” Crews, 55, said. “That’s the reality.”
Minimum wage was $4.25 per hour in 1993, both federally and in Wisconsin. A fast-food employee working 40 hours per week at that rate would make $170.
It’s unclear how much money Crews made in total during his NFL career, which included 32 games for the Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins. The Chargers now play in Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.’s team is now called the Commanders.
To supplement his income, Crews developed a side hustle around his artistic talents. “When I got cut [from a team, I’d] go back in the locker room and ask the players if they wanted their portraits painted,” he said, noting that he’d charge around $5,000 to paint his ex-teammates on the backdrop of city skylines.
Crews likely would’ve made more money in today’s NFL: Practice squad players with two seasons of experience made a minimum of $15,400 per week last year, and nearly $50,000 per week when elevated to a game-day roster.
That doesn’t necessarily equate to lifelong wealth. The average NFL career lasts 3.3 years, as of 2016. Roughly 16% of professional football players go bankrupt just over a decade after they retire, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study published the year prior.
Crews struggled financially much more quickly after retiring from the NFL, he told CNBC Make It in 2018. He and his wife moved to Los Angeles so he could pursue an acting career, and he relied on loans from a former teammate to get by, he said.
When his ex-teammate stopped lending him money, Crews took a job sweeping factory floors for $8 per hour, he said. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a turning point, he added: “I had $64 at the end of the day. I went, ‘Oh my God, I actually made this money on my own.’ I was never broke again. I never stopped working.”
Crews later took a $12-per-hour job as a security guard for movie and television studios, giving him close proximity to the entertainment business. He’s since starred in commercials, television shows and movies over a 24-year acting career.
He credits that success to a simple mindset: If you pursue jobs you’ll genuinely enjoy and take pride in doing them well, money will follow.
“I have more money now than I ever had in my entire life … because people understand equity and honor,” Crews said. “People make money, but if they don’t have any equity or honor, it all falls away — and that sounds real existential or spiritual, but it’s for real.”
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