Brendon Ayanbadejo

Super Bowl XLVII champion. Former linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. Orangetheory Fitness Area Developer in California, Ohio and Melbourne, Australia.

Athletes and entertainers face unique wealth management opportunities, considerations and challenges. The athletes and entertainers we interviewed shared their personal stories and perspectives to highlight the need for more financial education in the sports and entertainment world. We thank them for being strong advocates of financial literacy.

Brendon’s advice

“You don’t know how long your physical talent will last. Your career might last three years or 10 years. You need a plan that gets you to retirement. Learn how to manage your wealth. Make your money work for you.”

The value of money

Money was always a concern in Brendon’s childhood home. His parents separated when he was young. Brendon and his older brother Femi and younger sister Rose lived with their mom in Chicago. The family relied on welfare and Section 8 government housing. “For our allowance, my mom would give us food stamps. I learned about the value of money and what it’s like to not have any.” One of his earliest memories is going to the corner bodega to buy treats with the food stamps he earned for doing chores. He was eight years old.

Battling for success

The family relocated to California when Brendon was 10. He played football at Santa Cruz High School but didn’t receive any athletic scholarship offers. Brendon attended community college at Cabrillo College where he was later recruited by UCLA. He won two PAC-10 championships with the Bruins. Despite his success, Brendon wasn’t drafted out of college. And like many students, he had also racked up quite a bit of debt during school.

Brendon signed a short-lived contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 1999 as a free agent, receiving a minor signing bonus. His brother Femi was more firmly established in the NFL, playing for the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl in 2000. “My brother was supporting me financially for a few years.” In coming seasons, Brendon was a journeyman both within the NFL and with teams in Canada and in Europe. “I was cut three times from the NFL during 1999 to 2002.” In 2003, he joined the Miami Dolphins where he played alongside Femi. “It was a huge relief to finally make my first NFL roster.”

My brother was supporting me financially for a few years. I was cut three times from the NFL. It was a huge relief to finally make my first NFL roster.

Brendon’s NFL income rose when he was traded to the Chicago Bears, but between taxes and repaying debts, there wasn’t much left over. He had few assets beyond his NFL pension and 401(k) plan. “It was a grind. I didn’t have the luxury to sit back and rest.”

He became friends with the Bears starting linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. While still playing for the Bears, Hunter was enrolled at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “Hunter played in the Super Bowl and had three years left on his contract, but he was already working on what’s next after football.” His perseverance made an indelible impression on Brendon.

The silver lining to an injury

Brendon’s most lucrative offer, a $4.9 million four-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, came in 2008. Then the Pro Bowler blew out his knee part of the way into the 2009 season. When Brendon was sidelined with his injury, he remembered Hunter’s example. “I took the entrance exam for business school and started classes while I was rehabbing. I graduated with my M.B.A. from George Washington University in 2013, the same year we won the Super Bowl.” 

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