The one thing that all pro athletes will have to come to grips with is the end of their career.
We all know that our careers will end, but rarely is it on your terms. For fans and people on the outside looking in, the belief is that all of the players make a ton of money and live happily ever after.
I can tell you that is not the case at all.
Several weeks ago I attended The NFL Bridge to Success in Dallas Texas. The event is a transitioning event for former players, and it’s a very informative event. The one common theme for most of the guys at this event is trying to get on with life once football is over. It was a real eye-opener to see that hundreds of guys went through the same thing. Some guys hurt more than others, but nevertheless we all felt the same.
My professional days have been over for a while now, but I remember being cut like it was yesterday. I was on my way home and my cell phone rang, and it was the GM’s secretary on the phone. She said “Mr. Polian would like to speak with you.”
I really didn’t need to hear anything else, I knew what was coming. He gave me the whole spiel that all GM’s give: ‘oh we are going in another direction, and we can’t afford the cap hit.’
It was all bull, and it came a day before my roster bonus was due. The feeling I felt is hard to describe, but the life I knew was over.
Time went by and in the off-season I was cool because I was working out and traveling to see family.
Oh how things changed when training camp started. The locker room, the spades and dominos games. The interaction with the guys. Now I’m at home with my wife and newborn son everyday. I’m grateful for the time but was missing that daily routine. I was doing the same thing every day since high school it seemed, and now it’s gone.
I know I was driving my wife crazy, and I didn’t know what to do.
Time goes on and you feel like you failed, you feel like you let people down. You don’t stop to think about what you accomplished, and how you impacted people. I know I only saw the bad. I saw that I couldn’t help people financially anymore. I wasn’t going to be the big shot walking into places anymore.
How was I going to deal with this? I had to do something and it took me reaching out to people to get the help I needed.
Talking to one of my friends and a former player he told me about some of the different programs that the NFL offered. I didn’t know a lot of them existed because I shut everyone out. I got connected and started taking advantage of the programs out there. I attended my first Bridge to Success in 2015 and I realized that a lot of people went through what I went through, and some were way worse off than me.
I also realized that this was a time for me to connect with other players and receive the support they needed. I talked to a former teammate that told me he almost ended his life, but another teammate saved him.
See, one day the lights will go out for all of us athletes, and we must try to prepare for the end of our career.
It will never be easy because, like I said most of us have our careers taken and we don’t retire on our own terms.
Just know that the game ends for every player, and it isn’t the end of the world.
Life goes on, and it’s the beginning of a new life.
You can also check James’ story out on his blog Big Games’ Sports Buzz.