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Good Question: How Long Can Athletes Stay In The Game?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- At 39 years old, Peyton Manning is now the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.  He's been playing 18 years in the NFL, which is 15 years longer than the average NFL player.

So, when it comes to professional sports, how long do athletes stay in the game? Good Question.

It's difficult to find exact hard average numbers because professional players can leave the game in a number of ways.

"When a player gets forced off the team, he doesn't necessarily announce his retirement," Lee Hutton, a sports and entertainment attorney at Zelle, LLP, said. "He just kind of goes into the dust. While he's competing for a roster, he doesn't make the team and the years go by and he's forced into retirement."

Of the four big professional sports in the U.S. - football, basketball, baseball and hockey - the average players' tenure is between three to five years, depending on the sport.

"A lot factors come into play -- how rough the league is, what the collective bargaining agreement is," Hutton said. "It could take a very good player who is older and has some more years left, but force them into retirement because a younger, cheaper player comes along."

According to the NFL Retired Players Association, the average NFL players lasts slightly less than three years in the league.

Hutton points out of the 250 NFL players in Manning's 1998 draft class, it's likely 100 of them didn't play past the first season.

"We only see Peyton Manning. We don't see the guys who don't make it past the first year because they're not important for the NFL to show because they don't have an NFL contract," Hutton said.

The Major League Baseball Players Association estimates the average length of a major league career to be four to five year after spending time in the minor leagues.

According to Hutton and Quant Hockey, an NHL career usually lasts between 5 and 5-and-a-half years.

"Hockey has a minor league system as well, so the guys are matured on how to take care of their bodies," Hutton said. "So, you're getting guys who are older, more physical specimens and now better how to take care of their bodies."

The NBA average is about four-a-half years and Hutton estimates an average WNBA player lasts about five years in the pros.

"Many times, they're retiring for different reasons," Hutton, who has represented WNBA players in the past, said. "They're retiring not because their bodies can't do it but because they want to start a family."

He also cites lower pay as a factor for a shortened average career span.

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