I'm posting a comment I left at Liberal Order. The blogger shows some amazing bankruptcy statistics for retired NFL players (78%!) and then does an estimate of the actual value of a career in baseball, from the perspective of a high school athlete - $86.
So why do people keep trying to get into sports? I think it's two things. First, it's partly the conquistador effect. An anomalous number of successful (read: more ruthless than average) conquistadors came from the Extremadura region of western Spain, Pizarro and Cortez among them. Extremadura is still poorer than the rest of the country, though beautiful in the spring. Going to the New World was a ticket out. Same for post-coal-and-steel Western Pennsylvania ("the cradle of quarterbacks") and the continuing disproportionate contribution of athletes to professional sports from inner cities and poor rural areas in general.
The second reason people want an $86 career is the Robert Franks reason, status. Adulation by people back home, by kids, and (most importantly) by the ladies has a concrete value to most people. Gentlemen: as a single man, would you consider switching to a job with a lower salary if it meant more access to females?