Why Life Off The Field Is Tough For Athletes

The death of Junior Seau and other NFL retirees has brought a new focus on post-NFL player counseling.

Life after football can be a rough adjustment for players that have grown accustomed to the spotlight the NFL places upon them. Earlier this month, ESPN’s Andrew Brandt took a look at the reality some of these players face once they call it quits:

At some point, however, the music stops. Most players wash out in a couple of years or less and are thrown into a world without football for the first time. They have to catch up to their graduating classes, people who have already been navigating their way through the “real” world for that period of time.

For star players like Seau, the music plays longer than most. Their challenge is less about having financial resources — we hope — and more about filling the void. I often hear from former players unable to find another passion that gives them “the rush” football did, that surge of adrenaline they miss being a “civilian.”

The National Football Post’s Nate Davis blames the changes in offseason scheduling for leaving former players ill-prepared for life away from the game:

The NFL offseason in the 1970s and 1980s was truly that — an offseason. Players had the time and energy to pursue other business ventures and even return to school to obtain their college degrees. Many of those players used their connections in their team’s community to develop business relationships. The interactions at club and charitable endeavors allowed relationships to foster with the local business community. All of which provided valuable launching pads to post-NFL career opportunities, and in many cases, soft, successful landings.

The NFL player of the ’70s and ’80s ended their regular season in December and the Super Bowl was played in mid-January. The players did not return to the football complex until July. Players either stayed and established roots and careers in their team’s city or many returned to college as their home. From my days with the Miami Dolphins, I remember players like Nick Buoniconti using that time to get his law degree or Doug Swift to get his medical degree.

As the 1990s approached, and the NFL was feeling the aftereffects of its battle with the USFL, the players began to benefit with increased salaries. The final settlement of the lawsuits over the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 1992 also brought new financial prosperity to the players. Unfortunately, in many ways, it also brought year-round training and organized offseason on- and off-field preparation. Teams started to require onsite offseason workouts, classroom sessions and more and more on-field activities during the winter and spring. The NFL offseason, which once ran from January to late July, shrunk to early February to late June/early July.

It is a fact that these players could use some counseling once they can no longer rely on the joys brought on by playing the game that they love. Let’s hope that the NFL and their teams begin to focus their resources on aiding these men once they have left the game.

ESPN – Why Life After Football Can Be BumpyNFPost – NFL Must Better Prepare Players For Life After The Game

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