How the NFLPA is Paving the Way for a Smooth Transition into Life After Football

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Multiple programs are aimed at making the transition as easy as possible.

The 2017 program featured an unprecedented 41 players at 15 different organizations across the country. (Photo via NFLPA)

At the start of the Baltimore Ravens’ Training camp Thursday, July 27th, offensive lineman John Urschel announced his retirement from football. Many were surprised by the announcement, and Urschel did not make a statement to the public upon leaving the Ravens’ training facility. He was set to compete for the starting center position this training camp.

Urshel is currently a doctoral candidate in Applied Mathematics at MIT. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Penn State. He also has several published, peer reviewed articles in his field and was voted Forbe’s 30 under 30 in the field of science.

Urschel ran in to concussion trouble in August 2015 after hitting helmet-to-helmet and being knocked unconscious. Upon returning, Urschel explained, “I think it hurt my ability to think well mathematically,” and that he was, “football ready before his ‘high level visualizations’ ability came back.”

CTE Concerns

CTE has become a growing concern across the NFL.

On Tuesday, July 25th, a recent study regarding CTE was released from Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System. In the study, 111 former NFL players’ brains were examined, and CTE was found in 99 percent of them — that is all but one brain.

The reality of CTE seemed to set in big after the release of the film Concussion, a film exploring the severity of concussions from football. The combination of the film and the recent CTE studies have certainly got people talking.

Now more than ever, the concern for life after football is prominent. In an ESPN segment, Matt Hasselbeck, a former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst, gave his input on the issue.

“It’s happening. Data is coming out and saying ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t the best use of your brain.’ Some players are saying, ‘Hey, there’s life after football’, and ‘Hey, there’s also more money.’”

Hasselbeck is knowledgeable, to say the least, as he has made the transition into life after football — a pretty successful one at that.

Life After Football

Players now have multiple programs to get involved with. (Photo take by Bruce Lipsky)

To get a better idea of what the league is doing to help players, we sat down with Dior Ginyard, Player Manager in Player Affairs for the NFLPA on what the preparation looks like at the NFL level. He agrees that he too sees the increased trend in the importance of life after football.

“I think we’ve done a better job of making players aware of the programs and resources that help prepare them for life after football. The only guarantee in all of this is that football doesn’t last forever, and I think guys are becoming more aware of that. So it’s our prerogative to prepare players for the next chapter in their lives.”

The NFLPA has many programs to actively prepare athletes for life after football, primarily taking place in the offseason. These resources help athletes to further their education, gain exposure to passions and areas of interest outside of football, and to get relevant professional experience within specific industries.

Two specific programs that Ginyard highlighted were the NFLPA Externship and the Indiana Kelley School of Business, which has a customized program specifically for NFL players.

“The program features webinars business certificates, professional courses, and MBA opportunities all online. This flexible program is based off of their day-to-day NFL schedules, so they can take classes when it is convenient for them.”

Many retired athletes are also becoming involved in broadcasting and advertising post-football. We have seen these cases with Peyton Manning, Brett Farve, the Hasselbeck brothers, Tony Romo, and countless others. But broadcasting certainly is not the only career NFL professionals have their eye on.

Ginyard explains saying, “Some players do tend to lean more towards careers that are closely connected to football such as coaching or broadcasting, but there are numerous guys who don’t. Taking a look at our Externship program, we had 41 players across 15 different host companies — and the majority of those companies had no relations to football. For example, Anthony Castonzo, lineman with the Indianapolis Colts, spent 3 weeks creating a video game at Whalerock Industries as an Extern.”

At the end of the day, like any other professional, the athletes are investing themselves in professions that pique their interest. Considering football has been a lifelong passion for many of these men, of course associated careers come to mind. However, these men also have many other interests that they are finally getting the opportunity to pursue upon their transition out of the league.

If you are doing something you love, it makes the life transition a little easier, which is one of the toughest parts for players once they are done with their careers as Ginyard explains.

“I think transition of any kind is hard, so players tend to go through the same emotions you may face transitioning from high school to college, or from college to the ‘real world.’ This is why we try to do our best to prepare players before that time comes.”

The NFLPA has a resources initiative called The Trust that was launched in 2013. The program was engineered to provide additional resources to enhance athletes’ skills in the six pillars of the NFLPA: Education, Financial, Career, Brain & Body, Lifestyle, and Personal Interaction. The Trust provides resources, opportunities, and guidance in each of the five pillars — resources that are well-earned after a career in the league. The Trust ensures a successful transition for athletes post- football career, and is practical in every way, Ginyard pointed out.

“We don’t have these programs and resources in place to look sexy. We want guys to take advantage of the services that they basically earned by making it to this level.”

The NFLPA realizes how important the transition is, and whether athletes decide to hang up their cleats or not, professionals like Dior Ginyard are hard at work to maximize well deserved resources for the athletes.

It will be an interesting issue moving forward, but rest assured the NFLPA and other associated programs are going above and beyond to make the transition for athletes easier.

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