Keep on Truckin': 15 Stories of Life After Sports

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Boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard retired in 1982. Then again in 1984. Enough, he said once more in 1987. And 1991. And finally in 1997.

Long before quarterback Brett Favre made retirement an annual and reversible rite, Leonard demonstrated that on the subject of possibly hanging it up for good and starting a new career he felt strongly both ways.

Jobs during his time away from the ring included HBO commentator and founder of the Sugar Ray Leonard television network. Don't remember it? There's a reason for that.

In an interview for ESPN's SportsCentury, Leonard's ex-wife Juanita said Leonard was clearly conflicted, that "still today, down inside, it's Ray Leonard. But Sugar Ray Leonard won't let him out."

Athlete retirements are the ultimate mixed bag. Some get arrested. Many get elected to political office. Some thrive. Some crash. More than a few live the credo once espoused by soccer great George Best, who said, "I spent a lot of money on booze, (women) and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."

In a March 2009 Sports Illustrated article, writer Pablo Torre cited a startling statistic; that two years after retirement 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress due to joblessness, bad investments or divorce.

Here's a look at 15 sports retirement tales -- happy and otherwise.

1. Mookie Wilson

Wilson hit the ball that famously went through Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's legs in the 1986 World Series.

Wilson, who's currently the New York Mets' first base coach, also worked as a truck driver in the southern states since 1999. He denies he thinks of the Buckner play every time he drives through a tunnel.

Are there more interesting second careers? Yes. But how many truckers played in a World Series? (Also: I like the name "Mookie.")

2. Barry Sanders

The anti-Brett Favre and Sugar Ray Leonard, Sanders was one of the all-time greats who walked away unexpectedly and never came back.

His exit was much like that of the great Jim Brown, but at least Brown walked away from football into the Hollywood embrace of Bo Derek. Sanders announced his retirement from the Detroit Lions in 1999 by faxing a letter.

Not to the Lions. To his hometown newspaper, the Wichita Eagle.

It would be years before Sanders admitted he was tired of all the losing in Detroit and was upset with management over some personnel moves.

Sanders had to pay back the Lions $5.5 million in contract bonuses. He lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and is married to a local news anchor.

3. George Foreman

One of the 25 greatest boxers of all time, according to Ring Magazine's 2002 rankings.

He'd rank even higher as a pitchman. One of his post-boxing career business ventures was a deal with Salton, Inc., which markets the George Foreman Lean Man Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine.

The 1999 deal Foreman struck is one of the biggest athlete endorsement deals in history. He reportedly netted $4.5 million a month from his cut of the profits. Then Salton paid him a flat $137 million to use his name.

Foreman has 10 children. His five sons are all named George. So, apparently, he spends most of his family time in retirement saying, "No, not you."

4. Manute Bol

If there were an award for advancing humanitarian causes during a second career, Bol would win it. Unfortunately, he'd win it posthumously.

The 7-foot-7 Bol died of kidney failure in June 2010 at age 47. During his remarkable life, he established the Ring True Foundation to raise money for Sudan, his homeland.

The way he did it was unique in some cases. He raised money by fighting William "The Refrigerator" Perry in a celebrity bout, and by participating in a horse race.

Yep. As a jockey.

5. Richard Petty

Being The King is a full-time job for the icon of stock car racing. Good thing. With so many former athletes ending up in politics, Petty unintentionally bucked the trend.

He ran as the Republican nominee for North Carolina's Secretary of State in the mid-90s. Petty was considered a sure thing but lost the election, perhaps due to what some observers considered less than all-out campaigning.

"If I had known I wasn't going to win, I wouldn't have run," said Petty.

In 2006, he was cast as "The King" in Pixar's animated film Cars.

6. Jesse Ventura

Ventura was known as "The Body" when he starred as a pro wrestler. Born James George Vanos, he ran for mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, in 1990. I sat in his living room for a story that year when he was showing up for city council meetings dressed in black leather and carrying his motorcycle helmet under his arm.

Little did anyone know he'd become the 38th governor of Minnesota in 1998 and inspire the nickname "The Governing Body" and a bumper sticker: "My governor can beat up your governor."

Most recently, Ventura taught a study group at Harvard on third-party politics. As an occasional political commentator, the former member of the Navy's Underwater Demolition Team was known as a strong voice against waterboarding, calling it torture.

"[Waterboarding] is drowning," he once said. "It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning...I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."

7. Tonya Harding

Did I say some athletes crash? I meant crash and burn. After winning the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, her stock plummeted in 1994 when members of her camp (including ex-husband Jeff Gillooly) attacked her biggest rival, Nancy Kerrigan, at the 1994 championships.

She sold a pornographic "Wedding Video" to a tabloid, worked briefly as a pro wrestling manager, launched a boxing career (3-3 lifetime) and became a regular contributor to TruTv's The Smoking Gun Presents World's Dumbest...

Oh yeah. Almost forgot. She appeared in the 1996 movie Breakaway in which she played the girlfriend of a criminal.

You know what they call that? Not acting.

8. Dick Ambrose

Never heard of him? He played linebacker for the Cleveland Browns from 1976-83, got his law degree and now serves as a judge in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Northeast Ohio

Most recently he's served as the presiding judge in the notorious Anthony Sowell serial murder trial in Cleveland. Sowell was found guilty on 83 charges, including the murder of 11 female victims discovered at his house in 2009.

During the trial, a witness turned to Ambrose and said, "Do you mind if I call you Bam-Bam?"

Bam-Bam was Ambrose's nickname as a NFL player, proving an athlete can become even more successful and respected in a second career but never really leave the first one behind.

9. Mike Tyson

If Tonya Harding crashed and burned, Tyson combusted. His fall is well chronicled. Where is he now?

In March of this year, he started a reality series for Animal Planet called Taking on Tyson. It's about his passion for racing homing pigeons. In fact, the story goes that his first fight as a kid came after a bully ripped the head off one of his beloved pigeons.

Thankfully, there have been no re-enactments.

Wrote Dan Snierson for Inside TV, "If you've always dreamed of a reality series involving Mike Tyson and pigeons, well, you have weird dreams."

10. Mark Vlasic

A little-used quarterback during his six years in the NFL with San Diego, Tampa Bay and Kansas City, Vlasic has done well in the world of finance as the Director of RSM McGladrey's Wealth Management in Kansas City.

He's on this list for being smart enough to see he'd need a real job, for getting his real estate license as a player and because I'm a soft touch for quotes like this:

"Other than on your pickle jar, I was not a household name (as a NFL player)."

11. Jack McDowell

Former Cy Young Award winner with the Chicago White Sox. Became famous in New York for flipping off Yankees fans during a 1995 game. Did I mention he was playing for the Yankees at the time?

Played guitar for the band Stickfigure during his baseball career and has kept at it.

In 2008, became part of a musical group called "The Baseball Project." That venture led to the album: "Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails" that included a tribute song to McDowell called "The Yankee Flipper."

To date, no Volume 2.

12. Matt White

White's career record pitching for three Major League Baseball teams was 0-3. The salary he commanded was modest and not the reason that during the last few years of his career his teammates called him Mr. Billionaire.

His story is not quite Jed Clampett's story, but close. In 2003, White purchased 50 acres of mountain real estate in Cummington, Massachusetts, from his aunt. She used the $50,000 to enter a nursing home.

Turns out the land was solid Goshen stone, estimated to be about 400 million years old and worth around $2.5 billion, minus extraction costs. He started a small extraction operation. In 2009 he put the land on the market.

13. Lenny Dykstra

His nickname was "Nails" as a player for the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. In 2008, he launched a jet charter company and magazine geared toward pro athletes.

In 2009, his net worth was estimated at $58 million.

By 2010, he was bankrupt and living in his car and hotel lobbies.

Latest update: On June 13, 2011, he appeared in Federal bankruptcy court to plead not guilty to twenty-five charges including grand theft. He was represented by a public defender.

14. Jack Clark

At one point the former San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals slugger owned 18 luxury cars including a $700,000 Ferrari and a Rolls Royce. According to his bankruptcy filings in 1992, he was paying on 17 car notes.

Clark got back on his feet in the 1990s. In 2009 the Cardinals hired him as a color commentator and he worked with young players in the Prospect League.

But not before he fractured six ribs and suffered near fatal injuries in a motorcycle accident while serving as the Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach.

During the worst of his financial woes, he lost his $2.4 million home and a business.

Good guess. A drag-racing business.

15. Scottie Pippen

Pippen, who starred with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, considered a comeback as recently as 2007 because he needed the money. He declared bankruptcy and sued his former law firm claiming it lost $27 million of his money through poor investments.

At one point he was selling his a lakeside home that was said to feature the world's "largest residential aquarium."

At the heart of the $27 million suit was a dispute over a $4.5 million private jet he purchased in 2001. Turns out it was a lemon.

Pippen "won" a $2 million settlement. And the distinction of being named by The Business Pundit to No. 8 on the list of "25 Rich Athletes Who Went Broke." Not to mention this list.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

August 2, 2011 - 9:57am
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