In the wake of tragedy – NFL Players need a new direction

The tragic death of Junior Seau brings to focus the struggle that many NFL players have after their professional football careers come to an end.  A life forged of competitive fire, physical pain and at times unbridled mental intensity can‘t be cooled by a twenty minute press conference, an engraved crystal football and a pat on the back.  For many NFL players, football and all its rigors on and off the field is all they’ve known since childhood.  Those not balanced in the nuances of life used the game as an outlet, a so called “pressure valve”, to release the steam that might be building.

What’s next?

As a result, once the lights go out for some NFL players so does the release of this pressure and with nowhere else to go it builds up like a boiler.  Some former NFL players turn to drugs and alcohol, some to bad investments, some to domestic violence and tragically as in the case of Seau, self inflicted death.

No one seems immune, though some appear to handle walking away from the game better than others.  In the case of Junior Seau, it’s hard for most of us to imagine a superstar falling prey to the beast of life’s cruel realities.  How could someone who had accomplished so much on the football field want for anything in life?  Couldn’t he just tackle the day to day problems like he did some opponent’s running back late in the 4th quarter?  Future Hall of Famers aren’t supposed to take their own lives.

But imagine if you will the hundreds, if not thousands of players that never attained the notoriety of Junior Seau,  players who entered and exited the League without a press conference, memento or even a handshake.  Recall the stories that you may have heard of the player forced into bankruptcy, substance abuse or depression, commodities to be used and then discarded as soon as the barrel emptied.

Checking off the box

The NFL has gone to great lengths to establish programs that address the causes that lead to what seem to be insurmountable problems.  But a check in the box indicating the completion of a “rookie symposium” or “mandatory meeting” doesn’t necessarily establish consistent understanding and behavior.  It has to be made part of a culture, not from a League wide perspective, but at the club level and then down through to the NFL player.

Cultivate your assets

NFL players should be regarded as assets in the communities that they live and play to represent.  These assets should be cultivated using a comprehensive Player Performance Program tailored for each individual.  Cookie cutter curriculums don’t address the unique requirements of each player.  This takes a lot of work and resources to truly commit to.  Many clubs aren’t willing to make that commitment.  Our industry owes it to these men to help with the transition, before they hang up their helmets.

A new way of thinking

I propose a comprehensive and integrated program aimed at the professional athlete (specifically NFL players) using top experts in various fields of both mental and physical development to put together a training regimen centered on the needs of each individual.  The primary mission will be maximizing player performance through the ongoing implementation of a developmental process designed specifically for each athlete.

 In lieu of implementing the program at the club level, this proposal will allow an outreach to more athletes regardless of team or sport affiliation.  It will emphasize the importance of each athlete to take control of his or her own professional training and development.  It will stress the importance of managing the individual’s own interests within the market place of professional sports and place the responsibility of maximized performance upon the individual, not solely on the club & its support staff.

Take it into your own hands

Every athlete in today’s professional sports industry is really their own individual company or LLC.  They exist in an environment that essentially contracts out for their “goods & services”, and in this case their health, talent and production on & off the field of play.  The athlete is then asked to combine with other athletes (companies/LLC’s) to form a composite company (professional team). 

 The key from the club’s perspective is to get all the individual companies working for the best interests of the parent company.  This tends to perpetuate a “top down” emphasis of plans, programs and procedures (cookie cutter approach) to reach the overall goal of “winning” in team sports.  “What’s good for one is good for all.”  Time and resource constraints almost make this an imperative and roll into the mantra that “big brother knows best” when it comes to the development and training of their own athletes.

However it is rare that the club ever takes responsibility for the lack of production on the field or for the problems generated off it by its players.

TFE’s next post will lay out the details of a comprehensive Player Performance Program.  

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