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January 9, 2017
Retirement Wisdom Press Release
January 25, 2017

What NFL Players Can Teach You About the Transition to Retirement


by Joe Casey

The ratings may be down this year, but that hasn’t stopped NFL football from being the most viewed sport in the US, drawing an average audience of over 20 million people. And its popularity is being fueled by an increase in women following the sport. ¹

So it stands to reason that fans like me might find parallels between the NFL and real life. The game is, after all, a persistent force in American culture.

But, as much as I enjoy being an observer of cultural behavior, especially when it comes to football, I’m actually on a mission here. And of course, it has very much to do with retirement planning.

NFL players a difficult challenge long before the rest of us.

If you’re watching this week, lessons for retirement may not be on your mind. While some NFL stars enjoy long and lucrative careers, the typical career in the NFL is actually very short. Our careers may be longer, but we can learn from their experiences with transitions to a second act, which they face far earlier than the average person.

You may be wondering what you may have in common with a typical NFL player. After all, you probably weren’t mobbed for autographs after concluding your last staff meeting. It’s unlikely that you heard the roar of the crowd going wild after you emailed your boss. And that typo in an email last week was not immediately greeted with a loud chorus of boos, jeers or projectiles from the stands (depending on the industry you work in and if you are in Philadelphia or not…).

It’s common to want something else after your current career.

If, like me, you’re a football fan, think of a player on your favorite team who is not a mega-watt star. There are obvious differences between your career and his. But, it’s a safe bet that both of you want to do something else – maybe even something completely different – after your current career.

There are some other things you may have in common:

  1. You’re both at the mercy of your employer.

Unlike the NBA, the contracts of NFL players are not fully guaranteed. An injury or a coaching change can lead to a player being released.

But wait – 46 percent of retirees surveyed in 2016 by the Employee Benefits Research Institute retired earlier than they had planned. Some did so simply because they could, but in many cases it was because of organizational or job-related changes with their employers. ²

Therefore, keep in mind that the timing of when you retire may not be entirely up to you.

  1. Both of your jobs are impacting your health and well-being.

NFL players face a higher risk of injury and concussions than most other professions. And although it may feel like it some days, your job is unlikely to be a full-on collision sport. But workplace stress in your job can have serious effects on your health. ³

  1. You’re both facing a big transition after your career ends.

A 2015 study of 763 retired players by Newsday and the NFL Players Association found that 61 percent found the transition from their career to be difficult. One of the big transitions ex-pro football players struggle with is moving from the structure of a work life which is scheduled by others down to the minute to a wide-open schedule.

This is also an adjustment for people moving out of the corporate world – from a schedule jammed with meetings to days and weeks with more freedom, but less structure.

  1. You’re both on your own with planning for your transition.

Again, the parallels are clear. 85 percent of ex-NFL players reported that their employer did not adequately prepare them for the transition.4 A study by Transamerica found that “fewer than 20 percent of retirees reported that they have received financial counseling, retirement seminars or other programs” to help them make the transition to retirement.5

The Takeaways

While there is a lot of coverage on players who struggle with retirement, there are also many examples of players who prepared well and went on to excel in their next career.6

So what can you learn from savvy NFL players about getting ready for the transition to retirement?

Invest time in advance to explore options.

While we think that most retired players move on to broadcasting or coaching, an analysis by LinkedIn showed that approximately 50% of ex-players are engaged in careers in small business, entrepreneurship or sales.7

Due to the difficulty faced by ex-players, the NFL Players Association has launched a program called The Trust to provide resources to help players investigate different options and learn how to prepare for and manage the transition effectively.

If you’re working toward early retirement – or need to transition earlier – explore what options interest you for a second career. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to start your own business. Explore a part-time role engaging with something you’re passionate about.

Do your homework ahead of time. The earlier you start the more open you’re likely to be to considering new possibilities.

Prepare for the transition.

Part of that preparation is thinking about your identity – how you see yourself and define yourself. Dr. David Chao, a former team physician for the San Diego Chargers, notes that players who transition well tend to see themselves as being more than just a football player – they see themselves as fathers and husbands.8

It’s very easy in either pro sports or the corporate world to get wrapped up in seeing yourself as your job. When that job is no longer there it can be a hard landing. The earlier you begin to think about yourself in broader terms than your job, the smoother the transition is likely to be.


  1. Chemi, Eric. (2014, September 26). Bloomberg.com.The NFL Is growing only because of women.
  2. The 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey. Employee Benefit Research Institute. March 2016.
  3. White, Gillian B. (2015, February 22).The alarming, long-term consequences of workplace stress. The Atlantic.
  4. LaMonica, Mark. (2015, January, 22) Life after football.
  5. The Current State of Retirement: Pre-Retiree Expectations and Retiree Realities. Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (December 2015).
  6. Whipp, Lindsay. (2016, May 17) Financial Times.NFL players go to business school to prepare for life after football.
  7. Rigano, Peter. (2014, January 31). Top NFL careers after retirement.
  8. David. (2015, April 6). National Football Post.Monday morning MD: why athletes struggle in retirement.

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