I had to swallow my own advice today. I always talk about being apart of the solution and not simply complaining about "problems". I was going to write a rant about this girl's comment that she posted under this article about professional organizations not caring about their retired players well being. What would that have solved? Nothing... I still think it's necessary to look at the comment because it is a reflection of a lot of people's thinking when it comes to athletic transition.
I'm all for the freedom of speech, but the nuances that are missed by the lack of understanding, empathy, and experience as a professional athlete rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, the athlete has a responsibility to look after their well being when their career is over, but it's not as simple as doing press or working with recognizable brands. EVEN THEN! That doesn't equal post career security. Think about it... what if you aren't a marquee player, what if you only get to play one season and then you are cut, what if you have a career ending injury, what if you don't even get to the pro level?
While, there is truth to taking responsibility for yourself, there are also a lot of moving parts that need to be considered when it comes to athletes. These individuals have spent their entire life devoted to ONE THING! The life of a non-athlete and an athlete are totally different. Once you decide to become serious about a sport to forsake everything else, there needs to be an intervention that takes place. The intervention isn't to take away from the athletic pursuit, but to enhance it while simultaneously developing the whole person.
I was sad to read about Greg Oden, one of my fellow Indiana All-Stars, and the struggles he's found himself in over the past couple of years. In the article he laments to himself "what happened the past 10 years?" From being Mr. Basketball (if you are from IN you know this is a big deal), to signing with Ohio State, to being the No 1 draft pick, then to being back at OSU not because he wanted to be but because "he's still trying to figure out his life." This is not a rare occurrence. We see the Shaq's and Manning's of the world that have endorsement deals and commercials, but that is an anomaly.
Thousands of players you have never heard of are cut, injured, or retired from the game everyday. Even more college and high school players are going through the exact same situation (on a lower scale). Why then are programs like the NFL rookie symposium and the NFL legends program (which could be beneficial to those that have the foresight to take advantage) touted as the solution?
You can't wait until an athlete goes pro to throw a program at them and say okay start thinking about your life. We are done with you, there is no more money to be made, I hope you can figure out life now.
Remember earlier when I said an intervention needed to happen the minute a young person get serious about a sport? That intervention is called personal development. Dr. Mark Robinson author of Athletic Identity: The Personal Development of the Athlete and founder of The Institute of Player Personal Development has spent the last 25 year studying what is called Athletic identity and it's long term affects on the athlete. His research is extensive and ranges from the elementary school level up to the pro level.
Sidebar: I was fortunate enough to go to the illustrious Howard University, where they instilled in us the need to be great people, and still I watched my peers move on from athletics while I was left feeling defeated, lost, and basically drifting through life. I always had that feeling like Greg... "what the eff happened over these past 20 years?' I'm starting over figuring out who I am without this game. So I started reading personal development books that led me to different experiences and groups of people. I beg to argue that had I started personal development younger AND while I was still competing I probably would not have been so blindsided.
Personal development includes activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital, and facilitate employability. It also enhances quality of life, and contributes to the realization of dreams and aspirations - excerpt from Athletic identity
The business world has long seen the value in personal development. Ask any "successful" (I use the term loosely because everybody's idea of success is different) person and they will tell you about having the right "mindset". Having the right mindset when it comes to athletics is important as you go through the different phases of growth and development as well as the stages of athletic identity development. A holistic approach to development that involves sport is ideal.
Until the subject of athletic identity is seriously considered and personal development initiatives are in put in place at the younger levels we will continue to see what we see in the media.