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Is There Life After Football?

Is There Life After Football?: Surviving the NFL

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Is There Life After Football?
    Book Description:

    In January 2014, President Barack Obama made headlines when he confided to New Yorker reporter Davis Remnick that, if he had a son, he would discourage him from playing in the NFL. "I would not let my son play pro football," he told the writer. Obama's words came on the heels of a year of heightened awareness of the life-long consequences of a professional football career. In August 2013, the NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement with over 4,500 retired players seeking damages for head injuries sustained during play. Thousands of others are seeking disability benefits in the Sate of California for on-field injuries. But the possibility of lifelong disability is not the only problem facing professional football players after their playing careers-often brief to begin with-come to an end. Many players, having spent years focusing on football, find themselves at sea when they either leave or are forced out of the NFL, without any alternate life plans or even the resources to make them.

    Is There Life After Football?draws upon the experiences of hundreds of former players as they describe their lives after their football days are over. It also incorporates stories about their playing careers, even before entering the NFL, to provide context for understanding their current situations.The authors begin with an analysis of the "bubble"-like conditions of privilege that NFL players experience while playing, conditions that often leave players unprepared for the real world once they retire and must manage their own lives. The book also examines the key issues affecting former NFL players in retirement: social isolation, financial concerns, inadequate career planning, psychological challenges, and physical injuries. From players who make reckless and unsustainable financial investments during their very few high-earning years, to players who struggle to form personal and professional relationships outside of football, the stories in the book put a very human face on the realities of the world of professional football. George Koonce Jr., a former NFL player himself, weaves in his own story throughout, explaining the challenges and setbacks he encountered and decisions that helped him succeed as an NFL Director of Player Development, PhD student, and university administrator after leaving the sport.

    Ultimately,Is There Life After Football?concludes that, despite the challenges players face, it is possible for players to find success after leaving the NFL if they have the right support, education, and awareness of what might await them. But players themselves must also resist being totally engulfed by the NFL culture in which they live. A fascinating study with unprecedented insider access, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in the world of professional football.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-7264-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-10)

    After nine years as a starting linebacker in the NFL, George Koonce’s football days had come to an end.1 He was depressed. Perhaps suicidal. Emotionally estranged from his wife. Avoiding his friends. Why had such a rewarding career boiled down to this? Is this what retirement amounts to for NFL players? What can they expect from life after football? George Koonce’s account of “the end” may not be typical, but it’s not unique. It expresses many common themes of how ex-NFL players get on with their lives. Like Koonce’s account, the stories are complex and often paradoxical. NFL careers are...

    (pp. 11-44)

    NFL careers start with a childhood dream. On NFL draft day, absolutely the most frequent comment by players just drafted is, “It’s a dream come true!” Of course, most American boys at one time or another dream of being football players, firefighters, or superheroes. But NFL players have devoted their lives to pursuing their dream through a combination of work talent, and opportunity. George Koonce recalls his dream.

    Compared to some, Koonce started dreaming late in life. Retired quarterback Brett Favre claims he got his first football uniform—complete with helmet and shoulder pads—when he was one year old....

    (pp. 45-82)

    NFL players live in a distinctive world of their own, a social sphere George Koonce calls “the bubble.” It’s an apt shorthand for saying that players are immersed in a cultural, structural, psychological, and experiential world that insulates them from many mundane aspects of everyday life. The NFL may be the most totally encompassing of professional sports institutions. It provides year-long training regimens, training camps away from all distractions, team facilities that cater to every need, and rules dictating behavior, comportment, and attire, both on and off the field. NFL players gladly hand over their lives because there’s so much...

  7. 3 THE END
    (pp. 83-104)

    Why is it so hard for players who’ve earned millions of dollars, who’ve been battered and broken, to walk away while they still can? Why don’t they simply sit back and enjoy the well-deserved fruits of their talent and labor? Why can’t players simply leave the bubble and get on with their lives? Former All-Pro Michael Strahan offers a possible explanation:

    That’s the tough thing about professional athletes. . . . It’s over and you are in your mid-thirties. . . . You wake up one morning and they tell you you’re not doing something that you’re used to doing...

    (pp. 105-138)

    No aspect of players’ football lives is more debilitating, controversial, or paradoxical than injuries and their consequences. The media strike a frightening chorus: “The NFL is killing its players and the league doesn’t care.”² “Most pro football players face a future of disability and pain.”³ “Retired NFL players experience living hell.”⁴ At the same time, other sources proclaim—asSports Illustratedput it—“NFL players, in general, livelonger” than their American male peers, and there’s evidence that they’re in better health than their non-player counterparts in many respects.⁵ Even more strikingly, we read that “former NFL players . ....

    (pp. 139-168)

    Chris McAlister’s saga is all too familiar. In 2009, he was cut with two years left on his seven-year, $55 million contract. Things went downhill ever since. Having squandered about $50 million, McAlister is living at home with his parents: “I have been unemployed since 2009. I have no income . . . I live in my parent’s home. My parents provide me with my basic living expenses as I do not have the funds to do so.” He also owes multiple child support payments.²

    Dozens of media accounts portray former NFL players as down and out after extravagantly spending...

  10. 6 WHAT’S NEXT?
    (pp. 169-198)

    NFL players hold their dream jobs, but former players are “out of work” with time on their hands. They are “exes”—out of the bubble, no longer gridiron gods. “What’s next?” is a complicated question with significant financial and identity implications most men their age don’t have to face. Understandably, most former players want continuity in their work lives, but there’s no NFL seniors league. They’re not expressly looking to duplicate the NFL experience, but they do search for elements that made life in the bubble so satisfying. This process sometimes leads them to unrealistically narrow their options.

    More Myths...

    (pp. 199-216)

    Speaking about post-career challenges, former players sometimes mention money or thwarted career aspirations. Surprisingly, however, they’re much more likely to lament the loss of everyday routines, the camaraderie, and the sense of common purpose.

    Facing a life without structure is no picnic. “The hardest part is your daily routine,” says former quarterback Trent Green. “For 15 years, I knew exactly what I was doing in March, June, and September because there was a schedule. When you take that away, you suddenly have a lot more time on your hands. I’ve been out of the game since 2008, and I still...

    (pp. 217-250)

    Why doesn’t retirement feel right for so many NFL players? They undergo many of the same processes of role exit that confront other retirees, but something’s qualitatively different. The sports retirement literature suggests that most elite athletes are likely to move successfully out of their sports and into other satisfying life endeavors.² While this is largely true for NFL players, too many of them never seem to “get over it.” Otis Tyler, for example, has done very well for himself. He has a rich family life and a healthy local media career. But ask him about his 25-year transition into...

    (pp. 251-254)
    (pp. 255-260)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 261-302)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 303-320)
    (pp. 321-321)